Pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), police officers, firefighters and paramedics are entitled to overtime. Significantly, there are specific rules under the FLSA that apply to police officers, firefighters and paramedics. Traditionally, employees covered by the FLSA are entitled to overtime pay for the hours they work over 40 in a workweek (7 days). However, under the FLSA, public-sector (government) employers can establish special “7(k) work periods” which changes the traditional 40-hour “threshold” that a police officer, firefighter or paramedic must work before earning overtime pay.
Under 29 USC §207(k), a public-sector employer may choose a 7(k) work period, ranging from 7 days to 28 days. Depending on the period chosen, the FLSA specifically prescribes a certain number of hours that police officers, firefighters or paramedics must work before they beginning earning overtime. See 29 CFR 553.230. For example, if a 7 day period is chosen, police officers must work at least 43 hours in 7 days before they can beginning earning overtime. Firefighters and paramedics on the other hand would have to work at least 53 hours in 7 days before they begin earning overtime. Separately, if a 28 day period is chosen, police officers would be required to work at least 171 hours within 28 days before they begin to earn overtime (i.e., roughly 6.11 hours per day) while firefighters and paramedics would be required to work at least 212 hours in 28 days (i.e., roughly 7.57 hours per day).
In addition to altering the work period which in turn triggers the overtime threshold, the FLSA also separately defines what can be considered “compensable time” for police officers, firefighters and paramedics. “Compensable time” affects whether such employees have met the threshold at which they will start earning overtime pay. The regulations define “compensable time” for police officers, firefighters and paramedics to 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.
29 CFR 553.221. For example, under this regulation, even time spent taking care of a K-9 unit at an officer’s home has been considered by some courts to be compensable time under this definition as the care is closely related to the performance of the officer’s principal activity. See Hellmers v. Town of Vestal, 969 F. Supp. 837, 842 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (“Time spent grooming, bathing, exercising, cleaning, and training the police dog is ‘required by the employer and is pursued necessarily and primarily for the benefit of’ the employer, and is thus ‘work’ under the FLSA.”). Such may not be the case for a non-public sector employee.
If you are employed as a police officer, firefighter or paramedic, it is often difficult to determine whether you have been fully compensated for all hours worked. The overtime laws applicable to your profession just are not the same “40 hour threshold” as they are for other employees. Thus, if you think you are not being fully compensated for all hours worked, you should consult with an attorney to review your particular situation. The law prescribes certain time limits to assert your claim for unpaid wages. Therefore, do not hesitate to contact an attorney if you believe your overtime rights have been violated, so that you do not waive your right to collect the wages you already have earned and to which you are entitled.