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Posted on July 25, 2022
An employee called this morning to say he would be late to work because he was serving as a volunteer firefighter at a 4 a.m. house fire in his town. May I ask for proof? And does he have to be paid for the time he will miss?
Massachusetts has a law protecting volunteer members of fire and ambulance departments (M.G.L. ch. 149 §177B). An employer may not “discharge or take any other disciplinary action against any employee by reason of failure of such employee to report for work at the commencement of his regular working hours where such failure is due to his responding to an emergency in his capacity as a volunteer member of a fire department or ambulance department.”
The law does not require that the employee be paid for an absence connected to service as a volunteer firefighter. The law is silent about whether to allow an employee to use paid time off to cover the absence, so that appears to be the employer’s decision. For an exempt employee the time off should be treated as any other absence. The employer may request a statement from the chief of the fire department as proof that the employee responded to an emergency call.
Many fire departments across the commonwealth use volunteers for emergencies. At least 130 municipalities are members of the Massachusetts Call/Volunteer Firefighters Association. According to statistics published by the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), only 47.1% of fire departments in Massachusetts are staffed fully or “mostly” by career firefighters.
These summer days of high heat and drought conditions set the stage for intense fires, particularly wildfires. While the idea of volunteer firefighters may seem archaic, it clearly is not a thing of the past in our state. This law continues to provide job protection for employees who are called to serve.
AIM members with questions about this or any other human resources issue may contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 1-800-470-6277.