New York State Volunteer First Responder Job Protection: How Does it Work?

After several years of aggressive lobbying by FASNY, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that greatly benefits volunteer first responders in New York. Firefighters and EMS personnel who qualify under the terms of the law cannot be fired from or lose their jobs while they are engaged in an extended response to a large-scale disaster.

In order to qualify for job protection, you must meet the criteria below:

• Volunteers only qualify for work leave when responding to a local or state-declared emergency. Volunteers are not excused from work for routine responses, such as individual fires.

• Volunteer firefighters and EMS workers must have provided their employers with written documentation detailing their membership in a fire department or volunteer ambulance corps. This document must be signed by the chief of the employee’s fire department or EMS agency, and provided to the employer before a response begins.

• The employee on leave can decide whether to take an unpaid leave, or to use any time off that the employee has accrued (such as vacation time, personal days, etc.). Employees are not entitled to a paid leave while engaged in an extended response.

• Under the statute, employers can request a written, notarized statement from the chief of an employee’s fire department or EMS agency certifying the period of time that the employee was involved in a response. It is recommended that all volunteers obtain this statement for every extended response, even if it is not specifically requested by an employer.

• It is very important that each department keep detailed records of alarm activity and duration of emergencies, which will aid the data required. This will provide back up documentation should the activity be called into question.

• This law does not impede, infringe or diminish the rights a worker is entitled to through any existing collective bargaining agreements, and does not impact the integrity of any collective bargaining relationship.

• State employees are exempt from the provisions of this law.

• If an employee’s absence would cause an undue hardship for the employer’s business, the employee may not take a leave from work. For example, an employer who would have to hire new workers to replace an employee on leave can choose to deny leave to the employee.

FASNY has gathered a number of resources related to job protection here, including the complete text of the law and other related documents.