UPDATE: First Responders Forced to Resign
Fifteen first responders are being forced to resign from their part-time jobs, in order to keep their full-time positions with Rutherford County EMS.
As of last week, the county no longer allows paramedics to work part-time for local rescue squads.
County Transit Director Kerry Giles runs EMS and says an attorney for the county pointed out on November 13 that the county could be in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
Giles says, because the rescue squad positions entail similar duties, and because the county subsidizes the squad, the U.S. Department of Labor could consider the two as one organization.
If that's the case, that would mean that weekly hours would be cumulative, and anything over 40 hours between the two jobs would mean the employee must be paid overtime.
Giles says the county can't afford to pay that, and the situation is creating a liability for the county. Giles says county officials have yet to contact the Labor Department to determine if the dual employment is an issue, but that the policy change is precautionary.
Tuesday, News 13 called five different area counties and each one allows county staff to serve part-time at local rescue squads. Buncombe County EMS Director Jerry VeHaun allows first responders to work for the county rescue squad in paid positions. The Buncombe County EMS and rescue squad partnership is similar to Rutherford County's, with the county subsidizing a small portion of the rescue squads' budgets. Despite the similarities, VeHaun says he has no concerns about labor law violations and said he's curious how Rutherford County arrived at the decision to change the policy.
"I was surprised and I wondered exactly what they were basing their concerns over," VeHaun said of Rutherford EMS heads. "I haven't been aware of any changes in wage or hour that might have affected an arrangement like that."
Rutherford County Rescue Chief Allen Emory says the idea that the two organizations could be considered one entity is hard to believe.
The organizations have different leadership, the squad is largely independently funded, was founded at a different time and are separate legal entities.
The squad is also licensed by the state, not the county.
Emory says nearby counties allow for dual employment and its a common practice among first responder organizations.