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When does a stipend become an actual wage? California

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  • When does a stipend become an actual wage? California

    So here's the situation:

    I am a firefighter with a municipal "combination" fire department. Combination meaning that some employees are full-time paid (3 shift Captains and the Fire Chief) and the firefighters and paramedics are considered "volunteer."

    I use the term "volunteer" loosely, because we are required to work two 24-hour shifts a month at a minimum and there is very little that separates our work duties and appearance from a full-time paid career department at this point. Gone are the days of rag-tag, undertrained residents, responding to emergency calls in their own private vehicles. In fact, most of our firefighters actually reside outside of the city and maintain full-time employment in other fire service related jobs.

    As of a few years ago, the city began paying stipends to the firefighters and paramedics in order to increase recruitment. Firefighters earn $50.00 per 24-hour shift while paramedics earn $100.00 per 24-hour shift and it is all under the guise of a "uniform allowance." About two years ago, they began actually taxing the stipend, so we now receive a W-2 and W-4, which in my opinion transitions from a "stipend" to an extremely under-paid fire department. Nobody balked at the taxation because the City overpays by a few dollars, so that after taxes, you still receive at least the $50.00 or $100.00 respectively.

    Just recently, the paramedic stipend increased from $100.00 to $300.00 because the Department needed to increase paramedic recruitment and was having a hard time competing with our paramedics' full time jobs.

    So after a long winded set-up, my question is this: when does a stipend transition to an actual wage? And when does that wage then become susceptible to the minimum wage standards? Because as of now, paramedic are averaging: $12.50/hour ($300 / 24-hour shift) while firefighters are averaging: $2.08/hour ($50 / 24-hour shift).

    Lastly, can an employee sign away his/her minimum wage rights in general?

    Thank you for any help you can provide.

  • #2
    Not my area of expertise, but I can say that the rules governing state/local "volunteers", especially for fire departments are VERY different then for the private sector. I will include a pointer to the related regulations. You will need to read both the "volunteers" and "fire protection ..." sections.

    If we were talking about normal private sector, then there is no such thing as a "volunteer". If we were talking about non-profits, then there is a narrow exception. But government is real fond of "excuse us" type of rules, and this is one of them.
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
    Philip K. **** (1928-1982)


    • #3
      The best way is to consult a lawyer.
      Last edited by fusion; 05-24-2011, 04:56 AM.
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