Health care in the crosshairs for wage-and-hour lawsuits

Health care facilities are increasingly becoming targets of class-action wage-and-hour lawsuits. Alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, several recent lawsuits in Texas have challenged timekeeping practices related to meal breaks.

These FLSA lawsuits directly attack the practice of automatically deducting meal break time from employee hours. The obvious conclusion: That employers should require employees to clock out for meal breaks and then clock in before resuming work.

Example: In a suit filed against St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, a former nurse alleges the hospital deprived her of overtime by automatically deducting 30 minutes for meal breaks.

The plaintiff further contends that nurses never receive bona fide meal breaks because they allegedly remain responsible for patient care throughout their meal breaks, interruptions abound and they are required to carry phones or beepers while on breaks.

Under the theory promoted in these recent lawsuits, health care facilities should not deduct any time for meal breaks taken by nurses due to the demands of the job—even if the nurse clocks out and eats a meal.

Payroll Handbook D

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are aggressively pursuing these types of overtime claims, actively soliciting clients with direct mailings to nurses and advertising on the web. They recruit additional plaintiffs to join the lawsuits by courting extensive press coverage.

Advice: With meal break and timekeeping procedures under increased scrutiny, health care facilities may want to review their practices to ensure they comply with the FLSA and state wage laws. Also carefully analyze whether meal break and timekeeping practices have been effectively communicated to employees.

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