Public Employment Law and Human Resource Management

Public Employment Law and Human Resource Management: Frequently Asked Questions

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Is a local government legally required to post or advertise job openings?

No. With the exception of certain county government positions covered by the State Personnel Act, North Carolina local government employers do not have to post or advertise any particular job opening unless a local ordinance requires them to do so. There are no federal or state laws governing employment advertising (other than the State Personnel Act – see below for local government coverage).

A local government employer that never advertises externally, however, may unintentionally discriminate against members of an underrepresented group if their recruiting practices result in members of an underrepresented group never receiving notice of vacancies and having the opportunity to apply for open positions. Such a practice, although not intentionally discriminatory, could be a violation of Title VII (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, gender, religion or national origin), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Can we require job candidates to have a pre-employment physical?

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from asking job candidates to undergo a pre-employment medical examination before the employer has made a conditional offer of employment. The medical examination must be the last step before completion of the hiring process. If the medical examination reveals something about the applicant’s medical condition that was not known or obvious, the offer of employment may be withdrawn only if the condition makes the applicant unable to perform the essential functions of the job such that withdrawal of the offer is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

Must a government employer offer the same benefit package to all employees?

No. Because a local government employer does not have to offer any benefits to employees at all (although without some benefit package it is doubtful whether a local government could attract good employees), it may offer different benefit packages to different employees – for example, enhanced benefits to those in positions that are hard to fill or see frequent turnover, or, with respect to fields in which there are many qualified applicants and not that many positions, more limited benefits. The only limitation on an employer’s ability to offer different benefit packages is that it may not do so on the basis of race, color. gender, religion or national origin, age, disability or military status.

May an employer pay an exempt employee overtime or comp time?

Yes. Nothing prohibits an employer from compensating an exempt employee for working in excess of the employee’s regularly scheduled hours if it so chooses. It is not required to do so, however. This is purely a matter of employer choice.

Many employers pay exempt employees an hour-for-hour bonus for extra hours worked based on what the salary’s hourly rate would be. Others give exempt employees paid time-off on an hour-for-hour basis. There is no limit to the number of hours of paid time-off that an exempt employee may accrue. In contrast, the FLSA limits nonexempt employees to 240 hours of accrued comp time – 480 hours for public safety employees.

Employers should note that compensatory time for nonexempt employees must be cashed out at the termination of employment. Employers granting exempt employees paid time-off do not have to cash out accrued time off unless the employer’s policy requires it to do so.

Under what circumstances must a local government employer pay “holiday pay?”

Neither federal law nor state law requires local government employers to give employees paid holidays or to pay a premium when employees must work on what would otherwise be a holiday. Local governments may adopt a policy of paying double time or some other sort of bonus for working a holiday shift if they wish to do so, but the federal FLSA does not mandate anything with respect to holidays other than that the employer pay straight time for the first 40 hours worked in a given workweek and overtime for hours in excess of 40. For law enforcement employees under the 207(k) exemption, straight time must be paid for the first 171 hours, regardless of whether or not any of those hours fall on a holiday, and time-and-one-half overtime paid for hours over 171, again holiday or not. In other words, legally, holidays do not have to be treated any differently than any other work day.

How does the FLSA’s 207(k) exemption for law enforcement and firefighters work?

The rules governing the use of the 207(k) exemption [sometimes called the 7(k) exemption] can be found at 29 CFR 553.200 – 553.223. The 207(k) exemption allows employers to compute overtime for law enforcement and firefighters on the basis of extended work schedule – usually 28 days. Under 207(k), nonexempt law enforcement officers must work 171 hours in 28 days before the employer becomes liable for overtime. In other words, for law enforcement, hours up to and including 171 are paid at the employee’s regular straight time rate. Hours in excess of 171 are paid as overtime at the time-and-one-half rate. If the employer has adopted a policy that provides for use of compensatory time off (“comp time”) in lieu of cash overtime, then an officer would earn one-and-one-half hours paid time-off for every hour worked over 171 in that 28-day period.

Firefighters must work 212 hours on a 28-day schedule.

Employers may make use of the 207(k) exemption for law enforcement and firefighter work schedules of fewer than 28 days on a proportionate basis. For a work schedule of 14 days, law enforcement officers are paid straight time for 86 hours and overtime for hours in excess of 86. Firefighters are paid straight time for 106 hours and overtime for hours in excess of 106.

With the exception of jailers, the 207(k) exemption only applies to sworn law enforcement officers and to fire service members who have the authority to fight fires. The 207(k) exemption is not available for use in compensating EMS workers, unless they are cross-trained in and have the legal authority to engage in either law enforcement or firefighting.

Under the 207(k) exemption, does an employer have to pay law enforcement officers for the hours between 168 and 171?

YES! Absolutely! The idea that an employer does not have to pay for the hours between 168 and 171 is just wacky. Under the FLSA, an employer must pay a nonexempt employee for all of the hours that employee has worked.

Are jailers considered “law enforcement” for 207(k) purposes?

Yes. Pursuant to 29 CFR 553.211(f), jailers are considered “law enforcement” for 207(k) scheduling and overtime purposes. This is true even though they may not be sworn law enforcement officers and may not be able to arrest or detain people and do not carry firearms. Civilian dispatchers, however, do not qualify for the 207(k) exemption, although sworn officers working dispatch do.

Is there any other way to pay EMS workers if they do not qualify for the 207(k) exemption?

Yes. Employers may use the fluctuating workweek. See the question and answer below for an explanation.

How does the fluctuating workweek work?

An employer may use the fluctuating workweek method of calculating overtime when an employee’s hours vary from week to week. Under the fluctuating workweek, an employee is paid a base salary regardless of the number of hours worked in any week. This means that the employee earns the same salary for the week in which s/he works 24 hours and for the week in which s/he works 60 hours. During the week in which the employee worked 24 hours, not overtime would be owed, but the difference between 24 and 40 hours cannot be docked from the employee’s salary. During the week in which the employee works 60 hours, the 20 hours of overtime may be paid at ½ of the regular rate of pay (that is, the salary divided by 60 hours).

Can a fire department or EMS employee volunteer for the department during their off-duty hours?

NO! Under the FLSA, nonexempt employees may not do the same work as volunteers that they do as employees. If firefighters or paramedics show up at a call when they are not scheduled to work, then the employer must either send them home or pay them for that time. Firefighters and EMS workers may volunteer for other jurisdictions, and local governments may use firefighters and EMS workers employed by other jurisdictions as volunteers, but a person cannot be both an employee and a volunteer in the same capacity for the same employer.

Do holidays that occur during an FMLA leave count against the leave entitlement?

Yes, they do. The fact that a holiday occurs during a week during which an employee is on FMLA leave does not increase the employee’s leave entitlement. The week still counts as a full week of FMLA leave. See 29 C.F.R. § 825.200(f).

What kind of information can an employer request to determine whether an employee is entitled to FMLA leave?

When employees request FMLA leave for their own or a family member’s serious health condition, the employer can ask the employee to provide a medical certification before approving the FMLA leave. The website for the U.S. Dept. of Labor has a medical certification form that employer’s may use. It asks everything that an employer is permitted to ask, no more and no less, and explains the meaning of certain FMLA terms to the provider filling out the form. You can download the forms here:


Some other useful Dept. of Labor forms and documents:
Form WH-381: Employer’s response to an employee's request for FMLA leave: http://www.dol.gov/whd/forms/WH-381.pdf


FMLA Fact Sheet #28 from the Dep’t of Labor’s website (may be used to inform employees of their FMLA rights and responsibilities at the time leave is requested): http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs28.pdf


Required FMLA poster:


Does an employee accrue sick and/or vacation leave while out on FMLA?

An employee on FMLA leave must be treated like other persons on a similar leave of absence. So if the personnel policy provides that employees on other forms of unpaid leave accrue sick and/or vacation leave, then employees on FMLA leave must also be permitted to accrue sick and/or vacation leave. If sick and/or vacation leave is running concurrently with FMLA leave and the personnel policy allows additional sick and vacation leave to accrue during this period, then for the period of FMLA leave during which sick and/or vacation leave are also running, the employee must continue to accrue leave. See 29 CFR § 825.209(h).

May a government employee run for political office?

North Carolina General Statutes §§ 160A-169 and 153A-99 prohibit city and county employees respectively from campaigning for political office while on duty or from using government funds or supplies in support of a candidacy; G.S. § 126-13 contains a similar prohibition for state employees. These statutes do not, however, prohibit a government employee from being a candidate for local or state office on either a partisan or non-partisan basis.

Cities and counties may, however, adopt local ordinances that prohibit or place limitations on employee candidacy. Any local government employee considering running for office should check with either the human resources office, the manager or city or county attorney’s office to find out whether such prohibitions exist.

Finally, the federal statute known as the Hatch Act prohibits state and local government employees from running for partisan political office if the employee works in a position that has duties in connection with programs financed in who or in part by federal funds. For further information on the Hatch Act, see below.