North Carolina firefighters risk their lives to save others. Many of them work well beyond the standard 40-hour workweek without a second thought. Unfortunately, some employers take advantage of these selfless employees by failing to pay them the overtime they deserve. Learn more about the overtime rule on salary for exempt firefighters in North Carolina below.

If you believe your employer is shortchanging you on overtime pay, call attorney Phil Gibbons. Our team assists employees who have not been paid fairly by their employers and makes sure that they receive full and fair compensation for the hours they work.

What is the FLSA and who does it cover?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law that requires a majority of employers to pay certain employees overtime for any hours worked beyond the standard 40 hours each week. Overtime pay must be equal to at least 1.5 times the employee’s base pay. The 40-hour standard varies depending on the type of employee.

Only non-exempt employees are eligible for overtime pay. Determining whether an employee is exempt or non-exempt can be challenging for employers. The FLSA lists a number of exemptions with specific criteria regarding the employee’s salary and job duties. If an employee qualifies under an FLSA exemption, the employer does not have to pay him overtime.

Who qualifies as a non-exempt firefighter according to the FLSA?

Generally, the following are non-exempt and are, therefore, qualified for overtime under the FLSA:

  • Firefighters
  • Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs)
  • Rescue workers
  • Ambulance workers
  • Paramedics
  • Hazardous materials workers

More specifically, the FLSA covers fire protection personnel who:

  • are trained to suppress fires
  • are employed by a fire department
  • have legal authority and responsibility to stop fires
  • are involved in the prevention, control, or stoppage of fires or respond to situations where life, property, or environment is in danger

Related: What Are The Meal And Rest Break Requirements For North Carolina Employees?

What is compensable time for firefighters?

Compensable hours are those that warrant pay. Employers often struggle with calculating the correct amount of overtime owed to their fire employees because of the various tasks employees perform on-shift.

Employees should receive 1.5 times their hourly base pay for each hour of overtime worked. Typically, the FLSA expects employers to consider all hours spent doing work for the employer as “hours worked.”

This may include standard work tasks (e.g., controlling fires, providing emergency assistance) and non-standard off-hour tasks (e.g., maintenance of equipment, inspections, housekeeping).

Public employers may also give an employee 1.5 hours of compensatory time off for each hour of overtime instead of cash if the employer and employee have agreed to it in advance.

Related: What Am I Entitled To Receive If I File An Overtime Lawsuit In North Carolina And Win?

What exemptions apply to firefighters under overtime pay laws?

The FLSA provides a set of criteria and exemptions that apply only to firefighters and other rescue employees.

Tour of Duty

For white-collar positions and a number of other jobs, the standard workweek consists of 40 hours. However, firefighters and other rescue personnel tend to work extended shifts, making the 40-hour standard impractical to apply to them.

Instead, the FLSA allows them to go by work periods, known as “tours of duty,” rather than workweeks under Section 7(k). A work period can be anywhere from seven to 28 days in length.

Fire employees that work more than 212 hours in a 28-day work period will qualify for overtime. If the work period at your firehouse is shorter than 28 days, the number of hours you need for overtime will be prorated based on the number of days in your work period (e.g., 106 hours for a 14-day work period, or 53 hours per week).

Small Public Agency Employees May Be Exempt from Overtime

While most fire protection employees are non-exempt and entitled to overtime, a few are exempt. To qualify as an exempt fire protection employee, you must be employed by a public agency with less than five employees involved in fire protection during the workweek.

Compensation Available for Meal and Rest Breaks

Falling asleep at work is usually frowned upon in most job environments. Not in the case of firefighters. Many fire personnel work long shifts of 24 hours or more so they can be available for emergencies. Because they need to be available at a moment’s notice, these workers cannot go home to have dinner and rest. As a result, they are expected to eat and sleep while on their shifts.

Government and public employers are generally required to include meal and sleep periods in an employee’s work hours, but there are some exceptions that allow employers to deduct meal and sleep hours from the employee’s compensable work hours. If there is a deduction of hours, the employee will not receive overtime pay for eating or sleeping.

Employers can take out eight sleep hours out of the compensable hours per shift if:

  • The employee’s shift is 24 hours or longer.
  • The employee and employer have agreed on the deduction.

Employers can deduct mealtime out of the employee’s compensable hours if:

  • The employee’s mealtime is uninterrupted and the employee is not working at all during this time.
  • The employee and employer have agreed on the deduction.

Executive Employees

Certain high-ranking employees, such as battalion chiefs, can be exempt from overtime pay if they:

  • Perform certain duties (e.g., supervise departments, coordinate activities of subordinates, make suggestions regarding the hiring or firing of employees)
  • Make more than $455 a week

Related: How We Handle Your North Carolina Employment Law Case

Phil Gibbons, Charlotte, NC employee rights lawyer, can help firefighters recover unpaid overtime.

Understanding the complexities of firefighter employee exemptions can be challenging for both employees and employers. However, it is the employer’s responsibility to make sure that their employees are receiving the correct amount of overtime pay for the extra hours they put in. If an employer fails to calculate the correct amount or misclassifies a non-exempt employee as exempt to avoid paying overtime, it could be liable for violating the employee’s rights.

As a firefighter, you work long hours to keep North Carolina residents safe. Make sure you protect yourself too by discussing FLSA firefighter exemptions with an overtime misclassification lawyer from Gibbons Law Group, PLLC With our extensive knowledge of FLSA requirements, we can help you determine whether you are entitled to additional compensation from your employer. If you have not received the overtime pay you deserve, we will help you file a suit against your employer to recover damages.