Recently, a federal court granted conditional certification for a collective action brought by a group of Texas nurses alleging that their employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The action, citing three locations of Methodist Hospitals of Dallas, claims that the hospital docks pay for nurses’ meal breaks despite the breaks being routinely interrupted by doctors, other nurses, and hospital personnel.
As one plaintiff in the case indicated, nurses are frequently expected to respond to codes and patients’ medical needs while on their lunch breaks. Furthermore, 30-minute meal breaks are deducted from every nursing shift, regardless of whether the break is actually taken by the employee.
FLSA Provisions for Meal Breaks
Under the FLSA, meal periods which are used for the purpose of eating regular meals are generally not compensated as work time. These breaks must last 30 minutes or more, and during this time employees must be completely relieved from their duties in order for the time to count as non-compensable. If an employee is required to perform any duties while eating, whether active or inactive, the employee is deemed not relieved of his or her duties. Thus, an employer that deducts meal time as non-compensable when an employee performs work duties on his or her meal break can be held liable for a FLSA violation.
Employees should be aware that rest periods, on the other hand, are compensable work time. Rest periods of short duration, usually 20 minutes or less, must be counted toward compensable working hours. These may include coffee breaks and bathroom breaks, among other things.
Talk to a FLSA Attorney
An employer’s failure to pay employees for compensable time – including time when employees are on meal breaks but are still working – is wage theft. If you suspect that you’ve been the victim of a wage and hour violation at your workplace or feel that your employer has unlawfully denied meal breaks, please contact the attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Employment Litigation Group regarding your right to money damages.