Nurses sue for mandatory meal breaks, alleging unpaid OT

Nurses are beginning to file suit against hospitals because of mandatory meal period deductions. Nurses are being docked pay because of hospital policies that fail to properly compensate non-exempt nurses for work performed during meal breaks. Generally speaking, employers are not required to pay employees for meal periods if the employer can demonstrate that the employee received a bona fide meal period which primarily benefited the employee. However, hospitals do not provide bona fide meal periods for its nurses who are responsible for direct patient care, meaning that the nurses respond to calls from their patients, providing patient care and monitoring; administer medicine to patients; interact with other hospital employees and visitors; monitor blood-work and patient test results; and respond to emergency situations. One case in the Southern District of Texas is shedding light on this issue.

In Hernandez v. Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, LTD, Civil Action No. 7:18-cv-00096 (S.D.Tex. 2018), the plaintiffs are nurses who have sued their employer in federal court in McAllen for alleged overtime violations.  The plaintiffs allege that they are required to remain responsible for patient care throughout their shift. Instead of making nurses clock out for their meal periods and then clock back in at the end of a meal period, the plaintiffs allege that the hospital assumes nurses were able to find a 30-minute block of time to enjoy a meal period, when in fact this does not occur. Nonetheless, the plaintiffs allege that the hospital deducts 30 minutes from the nurses’ shifts for a meal period, when in fact, nurses remain on duty during that time performing the daily demands of the job. The plaintiffs allege that the hospital continues to require nurses who are responsible for direct patient care to remain on duty and ultimately be subjected to interruptions during meal breaks. 

The FLSA requires that employers pay employees “at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate” of pay for any hours the employees work in excess of forty during the workweek. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Plaintiffs work, or have worked, for the Defendant but were not paid overtime at the rate of one and one-half times their regular hourly rate for hours over forty per workweek for meal breaks where they were not completely relieved of their duties that were interrupted, or entirely missed due to work demands. 

The plaintiffs further allege that the hospital’s conduct also violates state law because Defendant and Plaintiffs had an enforceable agreement whereby Plaintiffs agreed to perform work for Defendant, and in return Defendant was to pay Plaintiffs and Class Members at an agreed hourly rate for all time in which they performed compensable work. Even if no enforceable agreement exists, Defendant received and accepted valuable services from the Plaintiffs with notice that they  be expected to be paid hourly for these services; however, the Defendant failed to pay the Plaintiffs and Class Members for services performed on Defendant’s behalf during their meal periods.

The Plaintiffs are currently seeking relief on a class basis challenging the Defendant’s practice of requiring nurses to remain on duty during their meal break times, thereby requiring unpaid work and failing to pay Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees their agreed rate of pay or the reasonable value of the services they rendered for all hours worked.

The Plaintiffs allege that they owed overtime during all weeks within the statute of limitations in which Defendant’s records show that Plaintiffs worked overtime, but had time deducted for meal breaks that were interrupted or subjected to interruption. This took place, on average, at least one week per month and often more. Plaintiffs are owed wages under state law claims for weeks when they worked forty hours or fewer, but were uncompensated for meal breaks. This lawsuit highlights an ongoing trend by hospitals of mandatory meal deductions, and increasing numbers of nurses are beginning to question whether they have been illegally denied their overtime payments. 

Have you encountered a situation like the one above? If you are a nurse that has been subject to a mandatory meal break policy, consider speaking to an experienced overtime attorney. Josh Borsellino is an overtime attorney licensed in Texas that represents nurses who have been illegally denied overtime pay because of their automatic meal deductions. Josh fights for the rights of nurses that have been denied overtime pay. Josh accepts overtime cases on a contingency basis, meaning that he only gets paid if money is recovered from the company being sued. Josh provides free consultations for anyone with questions about overtime pay. He may be reached at 817.908.9861 or 432.242.7118.

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