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Automatic Meal Break Deductions in Healthcare

Automatic meal break deductions are a matter of frequent litigation relative to the healthcare industry, particularly involving nurses and other healthcare workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities. Hiring experienced and knowledgeable counsel is important in understanding the legal issues and challenges surrounding automatic meal break deductions within the healthcare industry. Our Firm has extensive, sophisticated knowledge and experience as to automatic meal break deduction issues specific to healthcare nationwide, through our principal office in St. Louis, Missouri.

Automatic Meal Break Deductions in the Healthcare Industry

The many issues commonly disputed in automatic meal break deduction cases, include the lawfulness of computerized timekeeping system configuration of such deductions, how the deduction is utilized in practice and what instruction and policies are utilized in implementing the deduction.

We have sophisticated knowledge and understanding of how proprietary time and attendance software systems process automatic meal break deductions. Our attorneys commonly review, analyze and audit hourly employee punch data, as we know how to read and evaluate timekeeping and payroll records from a wage and hour compliance perspective. Timekeeping and payroll systems commonly maintain data in certain readable formats, such as timekeeping and exception rules, bonus and deduction rules, break rules, earnings, pay and deduction codes and other payroll deduction information. The systems commonly utilized in healthcare that we have knowledge and insight into from a wage and hour law perspective include Kronos, ADP, Workday, Asure, Paycor, WorkForce and SAP.

Whether any given automatic meal break payroll deduction is ultimately determined to be legally compliant or not varys depending upon the circumstances surrounding the particular healthcare workplace and the practices and configurations through which the automatic meal break deduction is implemented.

Automatic Meal Break Deduction Considerations in Healthcare

The Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") does not necessarily prohibit employers from automatically deducting a meal period from hourly employees' pay during work shifts. However, a number of requirements and considerations necessarily need to be in place for this practice to be lawful. These include ensuring employees are totally freed from performing job duties, employees are allotted scheduled time for uninterrupted breaks, pager and Ascom systems are not available for answering calls during breaks, company policies as to the practice are sufficiently clear and understood by employees, and that a reasonable procedure to report shortened or interrupted breaks and to reverse the automatic deduction is carefully explained and available to employees.

The United States Department of Labor ("DOL") has provided specific guidance to healthcare providers in understanding the legal compliance considerations surrounding automatic meal break deductions. The DOL has been consistent in stating that "[w]hen choosing to automatically deduct 30-minutes per shift, the employer must ensure that the employees are receiving the full meal break." Dep't of Labor, Wage & Hour Div., Fact Sheet #53 – The Health Care Industry and Hours Worked (July 2009).

The law imposes specific requirements for automatic meal break deductions due to the employer's non-delegable duty to make and maintain accurate timekeeping records. See, e.g., Quickley v. Univ. of Md. Med. Sys. Corp., 2012 WL 4069757, at *5 (D. Md. 2012); Camesi v. Univ. of Pittsburg Med. Ctr., 2009 WL 1361265, at *4 (W.D. Pa. May. 14 2009) (certifying automatic meal break deduction class raising questions as to the lawfulness of the employer's policy that shifted timekeeping burdens onto healthcare workers); Mares v. Caesars Entm't, Inc., 2007 WL 118877, at *4-5 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 10, 2007) (certifying class based upon unclear automatic meal deduction policy).

Implementation of automatic meal break deductions does not violate the FLSA so long as the employer accurately records employees' hours actually worked. White v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., 699 F.3d 869, 873 (6th Cir. 2012) (noting legal principles relevant to automatic meal deduction systems under the FLSA); Creely v. HCR ManorCare, Inc., 920 F. Supp. 2d 846, 856 (N.D. Ohio 2013) (addressing class certification considerations in meal break claims). In White, the Sixth Circuit reasoned that, if an employer establishes a reasonable process for reporting "uncompensated work time," the employer is not liable for non-payment when the employee "fails to follow the established process." 699 F.3d at 876. According to the White court, "[w]hen the employee fails to follow reasonable time reporting procedures she prevents the employer from knowing its obligation to compensate the employee and thwarts the employer's ability to comply with the FLSA." Id. Within this analytical framework, the court concluded "there was no way [the defendant employer] should have known [the plaintiff employee] was not being compensated for missing her meal breaks" under the facts of that case, even though the plaintiff may have "occasionally told her supervisors that she was not getting her meal breaks." Id.

However, courts have found that "[w]hen the employer's automatic deduction policy shifts the burden to employees to report time worked during meal breaks, the policy must be made clear to employees, and the employer must make every effort to facilitate reporting opportunities." Quickley v. Univ. of Maryland Med. Sys. Corp., Civ. No. CCB-12-321, 2012 WL 4069757, at *5 (D. Md. Sept. 14, 2012); Valcho v. Dallas Cnty. Hosp. Dist., 574 F. Supp. 2d 618, 623-24 (N.D. Tex. 2008). An employer may not discourage or prevent employees from reporting work during meal periods. White, 699 F.3d at 876; Brennan v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 482 F.2d 825, 827 (5th Cir. 1973).

Knowledgeable Healthcare Wage and Hour Legal Counsel

For more information about our wage and hour law practice, with offices located in St. Louis Missouri, please contact us directly at (314) 645-4100 and by email at kevin@dolleylaw.com.

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The Law Offices of Kevin J. Dolley represents clients in labor law, employment law and employment discrimination matters throughout the State of Missouri, including St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County, Boone County, Jefferson County, Lincoln County, Jackson County, Phelps County, Franklin County, Ste. Genevieve, St. Clair and the Cities of St. Louis, Kansas City, St. Charles, O'Fallon, Lake St. Louis, Hillsboro, Troy, Clayton, Rolla, Columbia, Jefferson City, Kirksville, Farmington, Cuba, Augusta, Union, Maryland Heights, Cape Girardeau and Springfield.

Law Offices of Kevin J. Dolley, LLC - Missouri Employment Lawyer
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