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Be aware of different OT rules for first responders

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The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires you to pay overtime to hourly employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek.

But the rules are different for firefighters: They’re paid OT only after they work a specified number of hours in an entire month.

That’s the case even for paramedics if their department classifies them as firefighters, even though they may never actually fight a fire.

As a new ruling from DeKalb County shows, they’re no longer eligible for overtime pay after simply working beyond a 40-hour week.

Recent case: A group of paramedics sued DeKalb County and the fire chief for back OT pay.

They claimed that before the fire chief reorganized the department, they earned such pay as hourly employees.

When the fire chief took over, he decided that every employee responding to emergency calls must be prepared to fight fires.

He ordered the paramedics to undergo firefighter training, issued them fire gear and changed their job descriptions to paramedic/firefighter.

He also stopped paying them OT by changing their hours to match the firefighters’ schedule. They might work many more than 40 hours per week but not over the number of hours per month the FLSA allows firefighters to work without OT pay.

The paramedics sued, alleging nothing had changed but their training and job descriptions.

But the court tossed out the case, reasoning that because they were prepared to fight fires, they were no longer just paramedics. (Huff, et al., v. DeKalb County and Foster, No. 1:05-CV-1721, ND GA, 2007)  

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