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Public employers, take note: Appeals court rules on firefighter/Paramedic exemption

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in Hiring,Human Resources

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over New Jersey employers, has finally ruled on a sticky point that has perplexed many fire departments. The court has concluded that paramedics who also have firefighting responsibilities can be paid less than time-and-a-half for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Recent case: The case involved the Philadelphia Fire Department, which over the last few decades has added paramedics to its employee mix. Originally, the paramedics came from the firefighter ranks and simply received extra certification as paramedics. But as the training got more expensive, the department started hiring people who already had specialized preparation as paramedics. The department then taught them to put out fires.

After exhaustively examining paramedics’ job descriptions and the details of their daily work lives, the court concluded that paramedics rarely engage in firefighting. Their work almost exclusively involves medical tasks. Even though paramedics sign a document attesting that they will be responsible for fire suppression, the reality on the ground is that they don’t fight fires. They therefore qualify as exempt under the FLSA and do not get overtime. (Lawrence, et al., v. City of Philadelphia, No. 06-4576, 3rd Cir., 2008)

Final note:
When it comes to the FLSA, what counts is what employees actually do, not what a job description says they should do.

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