Burning Question: FLSA, Overtime and Consecutive Hours

Today’s burning question: I work for a small department that relies heavily on overtime to fill shifts to meet minimum staffing levels. I heard there is a limit to how many consecutive hours a firefighter can work. The number 48 has been used and rumor has it that it is an FLSA issue. Is there a limit to the hours that a firefighter can work?

Answer: Yes, firefighters are limited to working no longer than 24 hours in a day, except for once a year when a firefighter is allowed to work 25 hours in a day. Firefighters cannot be required to work more than that… nor can they voluntarily agree to work more than that… LOL…

But seriously, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has no limitation on consecutive hours of work. Neither does OSHA for that matter. One would think that an employer who allows or requires excessive consecutive hours could be at risk for an OSHA general duty violation citation, but that would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Here is more on OSHA’s long hours concerns.

There are some state law concerns on consecutive hours. States like California and New York have a day of rest requirement that mandate an employer to provide employees with 24 consecutive hours off a week. Here is a link to more on that.

Another angle on the same theme may come from state law overtime requirements. California requires employers to pay overtime after 8 hours a day and double time after 12 hours per day… Such laws go way beyond what the FLSA requires but may also influence employer decision-making on consecutive hours. Before our brothers and sisters in California get too excited about OT after 8 hours and double time after 12, the law exempts public employees.

In New Jersey, a driver that has been awake for 24 hours is considered to be an impaired driver for purposes of reckless driving. The law is called Maggie’s Law. Here is more on that. Extending that line of thinking could pose some problems for NJ fire departments who allow personnel to work even 24 hour shifts let alone longer consecutive shifts. In fact as crazy as this sounds… I can envision a mandatory nap time policy for firefighters in NJ… LOL.

Many fire departments have voluntarily adopted consecutive hours of work limitations ranging from 24 to 48 hours, and a number of IAFF locals have maximum consecutive hours limitations in their collective bargaining agreements.

By the way, we dispel alot of the common myths and misunderstandings about firefighter overtime in our three-day program, Fair Labor Standards Act for Fire Departments. Save $100-$125 per person by registering before March 1, 2018!!!!

May 8-10, 2018 – Minneapolis, MN hosted by the SBM Fire Department   Details / Register
May 30-Jun 1, 2018 – Providence, RI hosted by Fire Law Group  Details / Register

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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