A proposed collective action filed in California claims the City of San Diego underpays firefighters for overtime hours and compensatory time off (CTO). The lawsuit details several allegedly improper accounting practices the city apparently uses to reduce the workers’ “regular rate of pay” on which CTO payments and time-and-a-half overtime rates are based.
First, the case argues that the defendant unlawfully excludes from firefighters’ regular pay rates the compensation they receive in lieu of contributions toward the cost of health insurance benefits coverage. By reducing their regular rates of pay, the city, by extension, lowers their time-and-a-half overtime rates, the suit says.
Moreover, the lawsuit notes that the defendant uses CTO to compensate firefighters for their overtime hours and sometimes “cashes out” the accrued time. When this occurs, the city, the case alleges, fails to pay for the unused CTO at the correct rate because it does not include “all forms of compensation” as part of the workers’ regular pay rate.
The lawsuit also claims San Diego’s method of maintaining a consistent pay system – known as “Cycle Time” – fails to account for all the overtime hours firefighters work during certain pay periods. According to the complaint, federal law requires that the city pay firefighters overtime when they work more than 212 hours in a 28-day work period. Every three 28-day periods, firefighters apparently work two nine-shift work cycles and one 10-shift work cycle. To account for the inconsistency, the defendant allegedly subtracts eight hours from four consecutive paychecks and adds 16 hours to two consecutive paychecks, maintaining employees at 112 hours per bi-weekly pay period. The problem with this method, the suit argues, is that it allows the defendant, when calculating employees’ regular rate of pay, to use the average number of hours worked over three pay periods rather than firefighters’ actual hours worked.
“The Cycle Time system has the effect of Defendant failing to properly count all hours worked by Firefighters in the pay periods in which Defendant has subtracted eight hours from the actual work hours of Firefighters,” the complaint reads.
Finally, the case takes issue with the City of San Diego’s formula for calculating employees’ regular pay rate. Instead of dividing workers’ compensation by the number of their regularly scheduled hours, the defendant allegedly includes overtime hours in the formula. “This results in a reduction in the employee’s FLSA overtime rate,” the lawsuit states, “where each hour of overtime worked produces a lower overtime rate.”