Airport Firefighters Are Covered By FLSA’s Section 207(k) Exemption

Section 207(k) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) allows a public safety employer to treat firefighters and law enforcement officers differently than other employees for purposes of calculating FLSA overtime. Under Section 207(k), an employer can use a “work period” of between seven and 28 days in length in lieu of a “workweek.” The overtime “thresholds” are higher as well, with the firefighter threshold generally being equivalent to a 53-hour week and the law enforcement threshold generally equivalent to a 43-hour week.

Firefighters working for the Greater Rochester, New York International Airport brought an FLSA lawsuit against their employer, Monroe County. The heart of the lawsuit was the firefighters’ contention that the Section 207(k) exemption only applies to firefighters who are “employed by a fire department of a municipality, county, fire district, or State,” and that their employer was an airport, not a fire department.

Structurally, Monroe County does not maintain a county-wide fire department. Instead, firefighting services within the County are generally provided by the various municipalities, towns, and villages within the County which maintain their own fire departments. The County maintains an Aviation Department, which is responsible for day-to-day operations at the airport; the Aviation Department includes a “Crash/Fire Rescue Division,” also referred to as the “Airport Fire Rescue Department,” which is responsible for providing firefighting and rescue duties at the airport. The firefighters worked for the Airport Fire Rescue Department.

Citing a Department of Labor opinion letter as authority, a federal court found the firefighters were covered by the Section 207(k) exemption. The Court noted that “this case presents an almost identical situation to that presented in the opinion letter, except that this case involves a county aviation authority while the opinion letter concerned a state transportation authority. The Court does not view this difference as being significant. Here, Plaintiffs perform the exact same function under the exact same circumstances as the firefighters described in the opinion letter. The Court finds the opinion letter well-reasoned and consistent with Section 207(k), which recognizes that firefighters and police officers often work different hours than many other employees. Accordingly, the Court adopts the interpretation of the DOL opinion letter, which extends Section 207(k)’s coverage to firefighters employed by fire departments within public agencies.”

Kipple v. Monroe County, N.Y., 2012 WL 125286 (W.D. N.Y. 2012).