Charleston Firefighters' Overtime Suit Moves Forward

Charleston Firefighters’ Overtime Suit Moves Forward

CHARLESTON, S.C. — A South Carolina federal district court ruled that a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) suit against the City of Charleston may proceed. The suit was filed in 2013 by six Charleston firefighters who allege that the city’s application of a “fluctuating workweek” schedule violates FLSA by failing to properly compensate the firefighters for overtime and paying them less than the federal minimum wage.

Fluctuating Workweek

FLSA generally requires employers to compensate employees at the overtime rate for all work performed over 40 hours per week at a rate of one and one half times their regular pay rate. However, Section 7(k) of FLSA provides a partial exemption for those public agencies employing persons engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities, by increasing the number of hours such employees must work above the regular 40-hour workweek before they are entitled to overtime compensation. A public employer’s duty to compensate firefighters at the requisite overtime rate is not triggered until the employees have worked fifty-three hours in a given workweek.

The fluctuating workweek method is intended for employees who are paid a fixed weekly salary for all hours worked but who work irregular, fluctuating, or variable hours. For such employees, employers can calculate the employee’s regular rate under FLSA by dividing the employee’s fixed weekly salary by the actual number of hours worked during that workweek. Employers are authorized to pay an employee a preset weekly salary as straight time pay for whatever hours he or she is called upon to work in a workweek, whether few or many,”provided both that the fixed salary is sufficient to compensate the employee for hours worked at a rate not less than the applicable minimum wage and that the employer pays the employee overtime compensation at a rate not less than one-half of his regular rate of pay.” The employee’s regular rate will vary from week to week and is determined by dividing the number of hours worked in the workweek into the amount of the salary to obtain the applicable hourly rate for the week.

Firefighters’ Contentions

The City of Charleston, pursuant to a review of policies and practices, proposed increasing the number of shifts, the number of firefighters on certain shifts, or both. In order to do so, the city needs to expand its workforce. Given the delay with recruiting and training entry-level firefighters, the policy required existing firefighters to work an unanticipated number of extra shifts in the interim. The firefighters claimed that the city’s new version of a flexible workweek violated FLSA. While the city attempted to get the suit dismissed, claiming that it acted in good faith in reliance on Department of Labor interpretations of the law and that no willful violations occurred within the previous three years, the court disagreed and allowed the suit to move forward.

Regardless of your work schedule, if you are covered under FLSA, you should be paid minimum wage and overtime as required by law. You should call (855) 754-2795 or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form on the top right of this page if you feel your employee wage rights have been violated and you are not being sufficiently compensated. Our top-rated team of wage lawyers will evaluate your situation to determine your best course of action. We will also determine if it is in your best interest to file a lawsuit against your employer. There are strict time limitations for filing, so it is important that you call our experienced attorneys today.

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