New Leave Rules for Volunteer Firefighters and Other First Responders

Did you know…

Beginning on December 22, 2014 new job protections take effect for volunteer firefighters and ambulance drivers during declared states-of-emergency?

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The recent winter storms in Western New York demonstrated the important role that volunteer first responders play in their communities, but what happens when a volunteer firefighter leaves work in order to assist in disaster relief?

According to a new law that takes effect December 22nd, they will now enjoy job protections during declared states of emergency. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill in September after it was passed in both houses of the legislature over the summer. The bill requires employers to grant an employee who is a volunteer firefighter or ambulance driver a leave of absence if they are “engaged in the actual performance of his or her duties” during a declared state of emergency, during the entire time of the emergency. Because many fire departments enter into mutual aid agreements with one another, employees may be responding to a state-of-emergency that is outside the area where they live and work.

While everyone understands the need for volunteer first responders, when volunteers leave the workplace (often on short notice) to assist in a disaster impacted area, their absence creates uncertainty for their employers, who may be left needing to cover shifts, projects and deadlines. Without job protections in place however employees potentially risk losing their jobs with extended absences, so if they make the decision to remain on the job, disaster response can suffer.

What the bill says:

  1. The employee must provide (in advance of a declared emergency) written documentation of their membership in a volunteer fire department and/or volunteer ambulance service from the head of that fire department/ambulance service; 
  2. Upon the declaration by the governor of a state of emergency, the employee must notify the employer that their service is related to the declared emergency;
  3. The employer will grant an unpaid, excused leave to the employee AND/OR the employee may use whatever paid leave they may have available;
  4. Upon the request of the employer the employee must provide a notarized letter from the head of their fire department/ambulance service certifying the period of time the employee was absent;
  5. If an employer believes that the employees’ absence would create an undue hardship on the business, the employer is not required to grant the leave.

HR One encourages employers to proactively engage with their employees on this topic in order to determine how the business may be impacted in the event employees request this type of leave.