Firefighter recruits for the Town of Wakefield, Massachusetts receive training at the Massachusetts Fire Academy (MFA), located in Stow, Massachusetts. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the Wakefield firefighter’s union and the Town, new recruits with no prior firefighting experience “will be sent to the Fire Academy for training during the first year of employment, at the discretion of the Chief and subject to availability of funds.” The Town has sent all new firefighters to the 12-week recruit training program at the MFA and has required successful completion of the program as a condition of employment.
New firefighters attend the program five days a week for a total of 40 hours but are paid for 42 hours, consistent with the Town’s regular firefighters’ workweek. Recruits travel approximately one hour each way from their residences in Wakefield to the Academy. During this training period, recruits reported directly to the Academy and not to the Town’s fire department headquarters. In addition, when leaving the Academy for the day, the recruits went directly home.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected a lawsuit filed by the recruits under the state wage and hour law, seeking compensation for the travel time. The Court found that in order for travel time between home and work to be compensable, two requirements must be met. First, the employee must regularly work at a “fixed location.” Second, the employee must be required, “for the convenience of the employer, to report to a location other than his fixed regular work site.”
The Court found that the Academy met both these tests, holding: “We understand ‘fixed’ to mean ‘stationary,’ or ‘not subject to change.’ The recruits reported to the Academy every day during the 12-week recruit training program, and to no other location for the entire period. It can be said that the recruits’ work site was both ‘stationary’ and ‘not subject to change’ during that period since they reported to a particular work site every day. The fact that at the end of the training period, the recruits could expect to resume their assignment to the Town’s fire department headquarters does not mean the Academy was not their fixed work site during the training period. The nature of the training assignment was for a defined time period, but within that 12-week period the Academy was the recruits’ fixed work site.”
The recruits argued that because neither the collective bargaining agreement nor any law requires a firefighter to attend a training program, attendance is for the convenience of the Town. The Court disagreed: “Whether the training is mandatory or discretionary, it is also undisputed that employment as a firefighter beyond the probationary period was conditioned, as Town policy, on successful completion of a training program. This was not a new policy first imposed on these plaintiffs. The plaintiffs and the Union knew what was required to achieve tenure in the position of firefighter.
“The mandatory training at issue here is not for the convenience of the Town, but is rather an integral and necessary requirement for probationary firefighters to earn tenure as a firefighter. More importantly, it is a necessary prerequisite to develop the ability to perform their duties safely and professionally.”
Taggart v. Town of Wakefield, 938 N.E.2d 897 (Mass. App. Ct. 2010).