Firefighters, Required Pre-Shift Meeting and the FLSA

Today’s FLSA Question: I am a paid firefighter in a small full-time fire department. My department has one station and a total of 7 firefighters on-duty per shift. We work 24-hour shifts that start at 7 am. We rotate ride positions between two engines and an EMS unit. Our department’s policy requires that all personnel report to the shift captain in uniform at least 15-minutes before your shift begins to receive your ride position for the day. After you receive your ride position, you are required to meet “face-to-face” with the firefighter that you are relieving to get any pertinent information from the previous shift or shifts. The department requires that all of this occur before 7am, since the department does not authorize any overtime for this activity. However, no one gets paid for coming in 15 minutes early. Does the FLSA allow this?

Answer: The FLSA requires that employers pay employees for all of the time that they are “suffered of permitted” to work. An employee’s actual workday is not limited to their scheduled work shift. The vast majority of employer required activities that occur either immediately before or after the employee’s work shift is compensable. There are limited exceptions to this general rule, however based on the information that you provided, none of those exceptions would likely apply in your situation.  

Department of Labor (DOL) regulations found at § 553.221(b) entitled: Compensable hours of work provide very good guidance for this subject:

(b) Compensable hours of work generally include all of the time during which an employee is on duty on the employer’s premises or at a prescribed workplace, as well as all other time during which the employee is suffered or permitted to work for the employer. Such time includes all pre-shift and post-shift activities which are an integral part of the employee’s principal activity or which are closely related to the performance of the principal activity, such as attending roll call, writing up and completing tickets or reports, and washing and re-racking fire hoses.

Based on the facts that you provided, the required pre-shift meeting with your captain and subsequent pre-shift activities constitutes compensable work time. Here are some of the key factors that support receiving compensation for the time spent during these pre-shift meetings/activities:

  • The pre-shift meeting is required by your employer,
  • The pre-shift meeting is for the benefit of the employer, and
  • The pre-shift meeting is an “integral part of the employee’s principal activity,” or to use non-FLSA lingo, the meeting is directly related to the job in which the employee is hired to perform.

This analysis is limited to the FLSA. There could be local laws, collective bargaining, and/or city policies that could also have an impact on the compensability of pre-and-post shift activities.

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