Illinois Firefighter Sues for Violation of the Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act

A volunteer firefighter who was terminated from his full time job, has filed suit claiming he was wrongfully discharged after he was late to work because of a fire run.

Justin Wilkinson, a firefighter with the Rosewood Heights Fire Department, filed suit last week in 3rd Judicial Circuit Court in Madison County against Hartford Wood River Terminal Oil Company under the Illinois Volunteer Emergency Worker Job Protection Act (IVEWJPA).

Wilkerson responded to a working fire on January 30, 2014 and was an hour and ten minutes late to work. He called to inform his supervisor who said he could take a vacation day or come in late. The following day he was terminated.

The pertinent part of the IVEWJPA states:

50 ILCS 748

    Sec. 5. Volunteer emergency worker; when termination of employment prohibited.

    (a) No public or private employer may terminate an employee who is a volunteer emergency worker because the employee, when acting as a volunteer emergency worker, is absent from or late to his or her employment in order to respond to an emergency prior to the time the employee is to report to his or her place of employment.

    (b) An employer may charge, against the employee’s regular pay, any time that an employee who is a volunteer emergency worker loses from employment because of the employee’s response to an emergency in the course of performing his or her duties as a volunteer emergency worker.

    (c) In the case of an employee who is a volunteer emergency worker and who loses time from his or her employment in order to respond to an emergency in the course of performing his or her duties as a volunteer emergency worker, the employer has the right to request the employee to provide the employer with a written statement from the supervisor or acting supervisor of the volunteer fire department or governmental entity that the volunteer emergency worker serves stating that the employee responded to an emergency and stating the time and date of the emergency.

    (d) An employee who is a volunteer emergency worker and who may be absent from or late to his or her employment in order to respond to an emergency in the course of performing his or her duties as a volunteer emergency worker must make a reasonable effort to notify his or her employer that he or she may be absent or late.

 

50 ILCS 748

    Sec. 10. Employer’s violation; civil action. An employee who is terminated in violation of this Act may bring a civil action against his or her employer who violated this Act. The employee may seek reinstatement to his or her former position, payment of back wages, reinstatement of fringe benefits, and, where seniority rights are granted, reinstatement of seniority rights. The employee must commence such an action within one year after the date of the employer’s violation.

 

The CEO of the oil company, Matt Schrimpf, claims Wilkinson’s lateness for work was not the reason he was fired. However, he declined to elaborate.

Illinois is not the only state that has such a law. Recall the case of Stephen Chapman from Connecticut last fall.

Here is a partial listing of the states with laws protecting volunteer firefighters:

  • Alabama Code: ALA CODE § 36-21-160
  • Connecticut General Statutes: CGS § 7-322c
  • Delaware Code Annotated: DEL. CODE ANN. tit. 19, § 1901 et seq.
  • Kentucky Revised Statue: KRS 337.100
  • Illinois Compiled Statutes: 50 ILCS 748
  • Maryland Code Annotated: Maryland Code Ann. § 3-703
  • Nebraska Revised Statutes: NRS Sections 35-1401 to 35-1408
  • New Jersey  Statutes Annotated: NJSA 40A:14-214
  • New York – the state legislature adopted a volunteer protection law in 2013 but Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed it in December 2013.
  • Ohio Revise Code: ORC 4113.41
  • Washington State – Revised Code of Washington: RCW 49.12.460

If anyone out there has any additional states, please let me know and I will update the list.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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