Allegations have been made that the Houston Methodist Hospital requires nursing staff to work off the clock due to a payroll system that automatically deducts a 30 minute lunch break. A former nurse named Joy Corcione is seeking permission from a local federal court for collective action on behalf of over 5,000 workers from the facility. The lawsuit Corcione filed alleges that as a result of the automatic lunch break deductions the hospital owes back wages to the nurses, nursing assistants, patient care assistants, etc. Corcione explains that workers are required to respond to patient calls as well as meet with doctors and perform other duties as necessary during their so called “lunch breaks.” The lawsuit also alleges that sometimes nurses and other hospital employed caregivers don’t get to eat lunch at all, they are too busy.
The hospital has responded to the allegations made in the suit saying:
1. They make sure to pay workers appropriately even if their lunch is interrupted.
2. Hospital administration makes a great effort to ensure a fair compensation process as well as a fair work place environment.
3. The hospital will address claims otherwise during the process of litigation.
According to the Federal Labor Law, employers don’t have to pay employees during their lunch breaks if they are not working, but it’s been specified that if workers are still on duty (answering calls, going through emails, performing other work-related activities) during their lunch break then this time is considered work time even if they are eating, making personal calls or texts etc. while performing said duties.
It will be interesting to see what U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa has to say about the payroll system that automatically deducts the 30-minute break and the alleged discouragement of employees to manually correct the deduction of meal time and break time on their time sheets. The judge will need to decide whether or not to certify it as a collective action, but if he does, other nurses and patient care employees from the hospital can expect to receive notices regarding their chance to opt in – only employees who opt in can share in any eventual settlement.
If you have any questions about class action lawsuits or meal break violations, please get in touch with the experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.