The Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill on Monday providing a tax credit to employers that pay emergency volunteers for missed time while on emergency calls.
House Bill 1632 also protects volunteer emergency workers from discipline, discrimination, and termination because of lost time, noting that 85 percent of emergency service personnel in the Commonwealth are volunteers, and their overall numbers have decreased ten percent over the last decade.
It also states that employers may not discriminate against an employee because injuries occurred in the line of duty as a emergency volunteer, or those volunteers who return to work after receiving workers' compensation benefits.
The employees must have a pre-planned and pre-approved plan in place with their employer to receive these protections.
WarrenCounty Public Safety Director Todd Lake said, "Many, many many years ago I suggested this to some of our legislators. It wasn't my (original) idea, but I passed it along."
"A lot of major businesses are pretty good to us, but every little bit helps, he added. He also noted that it is hard on small business when their employees miss work. "Maybe this will be a little incentive for them."
Rich Barrett, Warren County Fire Services president said, "I hope that this helps with recruitment issues for the departments. There is already a law in place to prevent an employer from disciplining a volunteer for responding to a call and arriving late for work."
"The tax incentives may help the employer to be able to release an emergency responder for a call that they are needed for. This bill also offers the employer the same incentive to allow the emergency responder to attend training. I just hope that the state doesn't make this a red tape nightmare," he added.
Brian Bull, fire chief of Garland Volunteer Fire Department wants to "wait and see" how the bill works, if it is signed into law. He is also concerned about the amount of paperwork that will be necessary.
He said, "I've always thought that the state and federal government should be more involved," when it comes to helping volunteer organizations recruit and keep volunteers.
Bull added, "Volunteers are a dying breed. There used to be ten or twelve volunteers within three or four miles of the firehall. Today there is just a few," making it difficult to respond to medical calls.
The maximum annual credit for an individual employer is $10,000, and the maximum annual amount available state-wide is $5,000,000.
Employers would have the option of not paying wages or salaries to volunteers for lost time while on emergency calls or having eligibility for the credit.
Additionally, the bill provides tax credits to employers who allow those same employees to take a maximum five-day per year paid leave for emergency training at the request of the chief executive officer of the volunteer emergency service organization to which the employer belongs.
The bill will now be submitted to the Senate for consideration.