A dozen Florida Highway Patrol troopers from Tallahassee to Miami were fired, forced to retire or otherwise disciplined after an in-house investigation accusing them of billing the agency for hours they spent working from home, eating at restaurants and visiting girlfriends and relatives.
The disciplinary action came after a probe into the agency’s Statewide Overtime Action Response program, which is designed to beef up traffic enforcement in high-priority areas, including Interstate 10 in Leon County. Troopers, who are paid time and a half to patrol the areas, are expected to aggressively enforce traffic laws when working SOAR.
Last fall, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, asked the agency’s Office of Inspector General to review the SOAR program to identify potential waste, fraud and abuse. In June, lawmakers included $5.1 million in the state budget for SOAR overtime. Over the past five fiscal years, they gave more than $25 million for SOAR OT.
The OIG reviewed the activity of 36 troopers and officers who turned in the most SOAR hours among the FHP’s 12 troops across the state. A total of 13 were alleged to have violated policies.
However, attorneys representing the troopers believe they are being unfairly punished for following longstanding, unwritten rules of the Highway Patrol. They say that troopers and officers alike have been paid for years for working at home or eating meals at restaurants, though they were expected to leap into action when they got calls.
Of the dozen who were investigated, three were fired, four either retired during the investigation or were forced to retire, three were suspended, one was reprimanded and another is facing termination, according to records. Several of the troopers were longtime veterans of the agency, with 30-plus years of service.
The OIG allegedly found the following:
- Troopers reported SOAR overtime while visiting their parents, wives or girlfriends at their homes and workplaces.
- Troopers claimed regular and overtime hours while they were at home and restaurants.
- Troopers failed to radio in that they were going off or back on duty while taking meal breaks at restaurants.
- Troopers failed to activate their Automatic Vehicle Locators, designed to track their movements, and in some cases deactivated them.
The overtime rights of employees in the State of Florida are governed by the federal overtime law, widely known as the Fair Labor Standards Act. Under the FLSA, employers in Florida must pay all eligible employees time-and-half for their overtime hours worked. “Overtime” refers to any time worked over 40 hours in a single workweek.
Employers in Florida must pay overtime wages to any and all eligible employees. Employees “eligible” for overtime in Florida include all hourly employees, as well as salaried employees who are not employed in a strictly managerial position, who are not responsible for administration of the employer’s business, or who are not business professionals like a doctor or lawyer. For these salaried positions, the eligibility for overtime does not depend on an employee’s title. Instead, the employee’s right to obtain overtime depends on the actual duties performed by the employee.
Recently there has been an uprise in employment law cases where actual employees are classified as independent contractors. This is important to note because many workers labeled by their Florida employers as “independent contractors” are eligible for overtime if, in reality, they should be classified as employees.
If you think you may have an employment law case in the State of Florida, or if you are a worker with questions regarding the right to overtime or being classified as an employee vs. independent contractor, please contact a Florida Employment Lawyer at Whittel & Melton today at 866-608-5529 or contact us online for a free consultation.