A federal court jury has found that battalion chiefs in the Vancouver, Washington Fire Department qualify as exempt executives, and thus are exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The decision was handed down earlier this year.
My colleague Bill Maccarone covered the ruling in detail. Bill runs FirefighterOvertime.org. If you are not familiar with Bill or his work, check out his coverage of the Vancouver ruling. More on the story.
It is worth noting that exempt executive status is a factual question. That means that (absent an agreement amongst the parties as to the facts or a judge making the finding as a matter of law) each case involving exempt status will turn on the facts as the jury finds them. It is therefore possible that a different jury looking at similar facts could reach a different conclusion from the Vancouver jury.
The executive exemption has two critical tests, namely the salary test and the primary duties test. Each test in and of itself is complex. Let me give one example: If a fire chief docks a battalion chief for an absence of less than one day (ie a BC who leaves work early is docked for the time) it can result in a finding that battalion chiefs are non-exempt. And there is even an exception to that rule… we won’t get into the exception to the exception here… but it goes to my point: this area is highly technical and highly fact dependent. And then there is the impact of the first responder regulations. My point is, the Vancouver decision should not be over-stated by management nor under-stated labor. It is what it is.
I hope you enjoy Bill’s analysis. Bill, Brian Massatt and I will be presenting our FLSA For Fire Departments program in Denver, Colorado this September and Georgetown, Texas in December.
Please note – many of these topics are just too complicated to fully address in a single post or a quick email. If you have questions – please consider attending our program. The three day format allows us to build your knowledge of the FLSA to the point where the answers make sense.