Comp Time For Civilian Fire Department Employees

Today’s burning question: Can you settle an argument at work. Is a fire department secretary entitled to comp time? Admittedly she is a fire department employee, but she is a civilian employee of the city. She is not a firefighter for pension purposes.

Answer: Great question and one about which there are a number of misunderstandings.

First of all, no one is “entitled” to comp time, not even firefighters. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits public employers (state and local government) to allow employees to accrue and use comp time in lieu of paying them overtime. It does not mandate comp time. As such, comp time is not an entitlement that firefighters can force the department to grant.

Second, an employer cannot mandate that employees accept comp time. Comp is permitted only by agreement of the parties. If an employee declines comp time, he/she must receive overtime compensation for all hours over their maximum hours cap. The hourly cap for firefighters is significantly different than for civilian employees such as secretaries. Where a secretary is entitled to overtime or comp time after 40 hours per week, firefighters are not entitled to overtime or comp time until 53 hours per week (or up to 212 hours in 28 days in the department has adopted a longer workweek).

Third, comp time is an option for all public employees not just firefighters. Thus, a civilian secretary can be allowed to accrue and use comp time. Her status as a civilian or as a member of a different pension system has no bearing on her right to comp time.

Last, the maximum comp time accruals for police and fire are different than other public employees. Police officers and firefighters can accrue up to 480 hours of comp time before maxing out while other public employees can only accrue up to 240 hours.

Here are two US Department of Labor fact sheets that may help explain a bit more:

Fact Sheet 7: State and Local Governments Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) whdfs7-1

Fact Sheet 8: Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Employees Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) whdfs8-1

Don’t forget we have two more sessions of the Fair Labor Standards Act for Fire Department this year:

Rocky Mount, NC  November 15-17, 2016

Mesa, Arizona  December 6-8, 2016

We also have our first session for 2017 scheduled:

Georgetown, Texas January 31-February 2, 2017

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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