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*Firehouse Legal blog posts provide information only and are not legal advice. For specific legal advice contact your attorney. No seriously, contact them, they’ll be happy to hear from you.*

In prior blogs I’ve discussed the application of FLSA rules to the fire service, and how to determine whether or not the specific hours worked exemption for fire fighters will apply to your work force. As you recall, FLSA grants a workaround because the standard “overtime after 40 hours” rules don’t work with the firefighter 24-hour work schedule—it’s a square peg in a round hole.

Once you’ve determined that the FLSA 7k exemption applies to your fire fighters, (See: Fire Chief’s Legal Toolkit Part 2 ) the next few steps are relatively simple.  You will need to adopt a work period, generally between 7 and 28 days. If you are assuming leadership of an up and running department this most likely is done already; if you are making a conversion from volunteer to full time fire fighters, or otherwise starting a new entity then you will need to address this step. Don’t confuse fire fighter work period and pay period; they aren’t the same thing. One determines the period for overtime calculations, and the other sets the frequency and time period for paychecks.

Why is the work period generally set for something between 7 and 28 days? Part convenience and part rule. The convenience relates to the pay period issue—most pay periods are on some sort of a schedule that is less than 28 days in length. If you can sync up your work period and your pay period, your administrators and bookkeepers tend to find it easier to deal with the odd hours worked issues that firefighters present. (There always sems to be a struggle to understand the interplay between the issues, and it’s not limited to administrative personnel—fire fighters don’t always get it either.)

The “rule” side of work period determination for firefighters is based on the following: Any adopted work period is based on a 28 day, 212 max hours worked basis. If you adopt a work period that is less than 28 days, then you apply a ratio to calculate the maximum number of hours your firefighters can work before reaching overtime.  For example, if you adopt a 27-day work period, then the FLSA max hours worked will be 204 before reaching overtime. If your Finance Director or Accountant is freaking out over the math there’s no need to stress. There are abundant charts just a Google search away to help you. (Like this one for example.) Make sure you utilize a fire department FLSA chart and not one designed for law enforcement. While law enforcement also has an FLSA exemption, it is different than the fire service.

There are, of course, other considerations as well, because nothing is ever as simple as we would like it to be. You may have state laws that alter the max hours worked, and could impact firefighter overtime. If you are chief for a department with a collective bargaining agreement, that agreement may also create some alterations to the standard rules. It’s important to be aware of any rules that may impact the max hours worked, and make sure you understand the application.  You still may need to engage an expert if trouble arises, but you will at least understand the interplay of all the components during the process.

Stay safe-CS


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