The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that Los Angeles must pay its dispatchers and helicopter paramedics three years of double overtime for misclassifying them as firefighters. The city of Los Angeles characterized its fire dispatchers and helicopter paramedics as being “engaged in fire protection”. By law, firefighters are exempted from the rules on overtime found in the Fair Labor Standards Act. Firefighters must work 212 hours in a 28 day period to receive overtime under law.

The city claimed that the employees’ classification made sense, because the employees were working an important support role in fire suppression. However, the judge was not convinced by that argument. A prior ruling had defined firefighters as those individuals who actively and physically fight fires.

The judge ruled that the city was liable for double damage extending back three years, rather than the customary two years, because of its intentional misclassification. An appellate panel unanimously affirmed the decision. The court found that the action was intentional because the city had lost a similar decision back in 2002 involving dual-trained paramedics. At any time thereafter, the city could have taken steps to obtain an opinion about how the dispatchers and paramedics were classified, but failed to do so.

Unfortunately, trying to skirt the overtime laws is nothing new for many employers. There are both federal and state rules about overtime that most employers must follow. Under federal law, all employees who aren’t exempt from the law must be paid 1.5 times their regular rate of pay for all hours that are worked in excess of 40 hours a week. California law is similar, and also requires that employee be paid 1.5 times their normal rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek, or over eight in a day. There are also additional overtime rules in California, including that employees must be paid double for any hours worked over 12 in a day, as well as for any hours worked over eight on the seventh consecutive day of work in a week.

The biggest disputes concerning overtime involve whether the laws apply to particular employees. Federal and state law both contain exemptions for certain employees, such as the exemption for firefighters. Typically, executive positions (such as CEO or President), professional positions (such as doctors or lawyers), administrative positions (such as human resources), outside sales personnel and some computer positions are exempt and do not have to be paid overtime.

It’s common for employers to claim their employees are exempt from overtime when they actually are not. Employers may claim an employee is working in one type of position when they are not. Over the years, standards have developed to determine whether a person is actually employed in a position that is exempted from overtime. For example, in order to be considered as an executive, a business must show that the employee managed at least two full time employees and had the power to hire and fire employees.

At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that employees should not be able to dodge overtime laws and get away with it. Overtime laws exist for a reason, and the employees who are subject to them should be paid overtime when working more than a certain number of hours in a day or in a week.

If you are an employee and have had your position mischaracterized by your employer so that you don’t have to receive overtime, call Micha Star Liberty, Oakland employment attorney. Micha Star Liberty works extensively with employees who have employment law issues. Call her today for a free consultation at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She works with clients throughout the San Francisco Bay area, including Tracy, Fairfield, Hayward and Berkeley. Call today to learn more.

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