GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Town Board refused a grievance request from fire department member Jeff Maus to be reimbursed for 80 hours of time spent while taking a Fire Fighter Officer I training …
GREENWOOD TWP- The Greenwood Town Board refused a grievance request from fire department member Jeff Maus to be reimbursed for 80 hours of time spent while taking a Fire Fighter Officer I training class that was offered through Central Lakes College.
While the township was not contesting paying for the time actually spent in the classroom (24.75 hours spent at a weekend class in Camp Ripley plus 18 hours of online interactive classes done from home), Maus had also submitted time sheets for time spent doing required homework assignments and studying for the required tests, adding in emails from the instructor detailing the assignments outside of class time. He also had requested reimbursement for time spent driving to and from Camp Ripley. The township pays fire department members $10 per hour for time spent on required training, meetings, and emergency calls.
Maus had asked permission to take the class, which Fire Chief Dave Fazio then forwarded to the town board for approval. The town board approved having up to five department members take part in the class.
Four department members signed up for the class. Four completed the online training and three completed the Camp Ripley weekend and passed the tests required for certification. None of the other members filed time sheets requesting reimbursement for study time.
Township attorney Mike Couri, in a memo submitted to the town board on June 11 (prior to the regular meeting), noted that this issue is regulated by federal law under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). He said there are four tests that must be met in order to determine if an employee who is taking non-mandatory training must be paid.
Greenwood Fire Department members are considered township employees.
“While it does not seem right that a person who volunteers for additional training would have to be paid for it,” Couri wrote, “if it fails any one of the tests above, the law requires that the employee be paid.” The tests include if the training is outside regular work hours, if it is truly volunteer, if the class is not directly related to the employee’s job, and if the employee does not perform any productive work during attendance at the class.
Couri noted that it might be determined that not all these tests were met, specifically that the class could be seen as related to the employee’s job, and noted that the Department of Labor have generally given the benefit of the doubt to the employee in these cases.
Couri noted that the township needed to set a policy that specifically designated which firefighter positions are eligible for which training. The township had approved this training. The town board did pass a motion at the regular June meeting regulating that only in-house training, along with mandatory Firefighter I and II classes, could take place until a new township policy is put in place.
Couri noted the second part of Maus’ complaint had to do with not being paid for homework done before or after class hours.
“The general answer to that question is yes,” Couri wrote, “provided that the employee must be paid for the training after considering the four tests above.”
“In our case, it appears likely that Mr. Maus’ training requires compensation by the township under the four-part test above,” Couri wrote. “Even if Mr. Maus’ training did not fail the four-part test above, township policy to pay for such training puts this into the category of a compensable training, which would again trigger payment of time spent completing the homework.”
But the issue is complicated by the fact of determining if the homework is required. Couri notes that the references to homework assignments which consist of reviewing videos and reading chapters.
“Because these are labeled ‘homework assignments’ by the course instructor, it is difficult to conclude that this homework is not required as part of the course. If it is required, the employee must be compensated for the time spent doing this homework.”
While Maus had submitted a time sheet to the township for 80 hours of training, Chief Fazio had rewritten the time sheet, without notifying Maus, to claim only 42.75 hours. Maus only realized he was not being paid what he felt was the full amount when he received his check. He said it was difficult to determine exactly what he had been paid for, since the check also included payment for his time at regular department meetings, drills, and calls that month.
Township Treasurer Pam Rodgers noted that mandatory training is 100-percent reimbursable.
“How is our policy written as to mandatory versus non-mandatory training,” she asked.
Maus noted that the town board had approved taking the class.
“I would expect the board expects that I pass the test and honor the fact they are spending township funds for me to do so,” he said. “I am attending the class on behalf of the township. I took the class. I passed the test.”
Maus noted that there was a substantial amount of reading outside of the regular class time, as well as online videos to watch. He noted that this work was required to gain the knowledge needed to pass the final tests.
Greenwood Chair Mike Ralston noted the township had never paid for similar study time before, but said there could be exceptions to every rule.
It was noted that fire department members were permitted to log training time at home doing independent work that they logged, to meet training time requirements.
Supervisor Carmen DeLuca did not agree with Maus’ assertions that the study time was required.
Supervisor Paul Skubic worried about the fairness of paying Maus for more hours than the other members who took the same class. Skubic wanted more detailed documentation from Maus. Maus had recorded the dates and hours spent, which were attached to his time sheet. At the meeting, he offered several pages of handwritten notes, taken while he was studying for one of the unit tests.
Ralston said there was a lot of “gray space” in Maus’ claim.
“Some are justified,” he said. “Some are not.”
“I don’t know if it’s worth litigating against or not,” Ralston said. Ralston seemed in favor of allow time spent doing work that was assigned by the instructor, but not for time spent studying material for the tests.
“You are taking advantage of a loophole,” he told Maus. “You’ve chosen to get as much compensation out of this township that no other members have asked for. You are making a choice. We will deal with it in the best way we can.”
Maus asked Ralston if he thought he was claiming this time out of greed.
Ralston answered yes.
Maus told the board that his claim was not out of greed.
“I am following the policies this board has set up to compensate folks,” he said, “and to be in compliance with federal labor laws.”
Fazio said he wasn’t sure if the township’s personnel policy allowed for reimbursement for time spent studying.
“The rest of us didn’t consider that,” he said. “Day one, it would open up a can of worms.”
Fazio wondered if this would apply to time spent studying for the mandatory Firefighter I and II classes.
Fazio did back up Maus’ assertion that substantial out-of-class study time was required.
The board then set to reviewing Maus’s claim, date by date, to determine what was paid time.
A motion by Ralston to pay the first claim involving class plus study time failed on a 2-3 vote with DeLuca, Skubic, and Byron Beihoffer voting against, and Ralston and Larry Tahija voting in favor.
DeLuca noted he wanted to see what the township attorney had to say on the issue.
Ralston noted the supervisors had all received a letter, prior to the last meeting, which outlined the opinion.
“He gave us an opinion,” Ralston said. “And it’s gray.”
The board then voted not to approve any of the study time requests, on a 4-1 vote, with Ralston voting against. The board also voted 5-0 against approving pay for time spent travelling to and from Camp Ripley. The township has paid mileage for that trip.
After the meeting, Maus said he was not sure what, if any, steps he would take to resolve the issue. He would have the option of filing a complaint with the Department of Labor and Industry. He noted the township does have the responsibility of paying him for the time spent preparing the grievance and attending the meeting, according to state law.