Should Volunteer Fire Companies Be Considered Employers Under the Fair Labor Standards Act?
Do FLSA Minimum Wage Rules Apply to Volunteer Firefighters?
The U.S. Department of Labor recently published a letter (January 2018, letter number FLSA2018-16) addressing whether volunteer fire companies should be considered employers for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) minimum wage rules under certain circumstances involving contracted paid firefighters and EMTs. Although the specific questions addressed probably do not apply to many volunteer fire companies, we do stress one key area that should be avoided by volunteer fire companies—namely, if a volunteer fire company pays supplemental firefighters or EMTs through a contractor, then those same individual firefighters or EMTs should not be permitted to volunteer for that same volunteer fire company.
By way of example, suppose Community Fire Company X pays a contractor called Emergency Medical, Inc., to supply some EMT services for Community. Suppose John Doe is an employee of Emergency Medical and is paid by Emergency Medical to perform EMT services for Community. John Doe should then not be permitted to volunteer time at Community as an EMT or firefighter. John Doe may still volunteer for other things at Community (for example, helping with bingo or chicken barbeque fundraisers), but any work as an EMT or firefighter could be subject to minimum wage standards of the FLSA.
Volunteer fire companies and EMT organizations, along with municipalities that work with them, will want to be careful not to fall afoul of these FLSA rules.