Connecticut Firefighter Charged With Larceny for Sick Leave Usage

A volunteer firefighter in Plainville, Connecticut was charged earlier this year with larceny for using sick leave from his full time job as a police dispatcher in Southington. Stephen Chapman is accused of calling in six times during which time he responded to eight fire runs as a volunteer.

While all the facts are not known, Connecticut is one of the states that has a volunteer firefighter protection law that prohibits employers from taking adverse employment actions against volunteer firefighters who are late to work or miss work entirely due to their response to alarms.

WFSB 3 Connecticut

 

Here is a copy of the law:

Sec. 7-322c. Employers prohibited from discharging or discriminating against employees who are volunteer firefighters or members of volunteer ambulance services due to volunteer service. Remedies.

(a) No employer shall discharge, or cause to be discharged, or in any manner discriminate against any employee who is an active volunteer firefighter or member of a volunteer ambulance service or company because such employee is late arriving to work or absent from work as a result of responding to a fire or ambulance call prior to or during the employee’s regular hours of employment.

(b) Each employee covered by this section shall:

(1) Not later than thirty days after July 9, 2003, or the date on which the employee is certified as a volunteer firefighter or member of a volunteer ambulance service or company, whichever is later, submit to the employer a written statement signed by the chief of the volunteer fire department or the medical director or chief administrator of the ambulance service or company, as the case may be, notifying the employer of the employee’s status as a volunteer firefighter or member of a volunteer ambulance service or company;

(2) Make every effort to notify the employer that the employee may report to work late or be absent from work in order to respond to an emergency fire or ambulance call prior to or during the employee’s regular hours of employment;

(3) If unable to provide prior notification to the employer of a late arrival to work or an absence from work in order to respond to an emergency fire or ambulance call, submit to the employer a written statement signed by the chief of the volunteer fire department or the medical director or chief administrator of the volunteer ambulance service or company, explaining why the employee was unable to provide such prior notification;

(4) At the employer’s request, submit a written statement from the chief of the volunteer fire department or the medical director or chief administrator of the volunteer ambulance service or company verifying that such employee responded to a fire or ambulance call and specifying the date, time and duration of such response;

(5) Promptly notify the employer of any change to the employee’s status as a volunteer firefighter or member of a volunteer ambulance service or company, including, but not limited to, the termination of such status.

(c) An employee who is discharged or discriminated against in violation of this section may, not later than one year after the date of the violation, bring an action in the superior court for the judicial district where the violation is alleged to have occurred or where the employer has its principal office, for the reinstatement of the employee’s previous job, payment of back wages and reestablishment of employee benefits to which the employee would have otherwise been entitled if such violation had not occurred. The court may award the prevailing party costs, together with reasonable attorney’s fees to be taxed by the court.

(d) For purposes of this section, “employer” means a person engaged in business who has employees, including the state and any of its political subdivisions.

A quick search of Connecticut case law has turned up no cases interpreting Sec. 7-322c. Assuming that Champan did in fact miss work because of his response to alarms as a volunteer (something that is not totally clear from news reports), the question would be – does Sec. 7-322c prohibit a police department (as an employer) from bringing criminal charges against an employee who missed work because he was volunteering… or said differently – would criminal charges in this situation be considered "discrimination" against an employee under Sec. 7-322c?

Chapman was terminated last month from his dispatcher position.

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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