Seyfarth Synopsis: The U.S. Department of Labor has filed a lawsuit against several residential group homes seeking more than $2,000,000 in damages for the homes’ alleged failure to properly compensate employees for their on-site sleep time. The lawsuit is another sign of the agency’s ongoing focus on employers’ compliance with sleep time laws.

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court against the operator of three residential group homes alleging that the employer unlawfully deducted wages from workers’ pay for sleep time.

The DOL is seeking over $1,100,000 in back wages and an equal amount in liquidated damages for scores of direct care workers who allegedly were not paid properly for their sleep time at the residences. The agency has also requested an injunction requiring the group homes to change their practices to comply with the Fair Labor Standards Act in the future.

The lawsuit, filed on October 27 against three related communities operating in the Houston area, contains allegations that the workers did not receive five hours of uninterrupted sleep each night and so improper deductions were made from the care staff’s pay for the sleep time. The lawsuit also claims that the communities failed to provide adequate sleep facilities for the workers. The group homes targeted by the agency’s lawsuit are for-profit residential treatment centers for troubled youth that employ workers who sleep at the facilities.

Under federal sleep time laws, if an employee is required to be at a worksite for 24 or more consecutive hours, the employer and employee may agree to not count as hours worked a regularly scheduled sleeping period of eight hours, provided that:

(1) the employer provides adequate sleeping facilities;

(2) the employee’s time spent sleeping is usually uninterrupted for at least five hours; and

(3) there is an express or implied agreement to exclude sleep time.

According to the agency’s complaint, the group homes failed to meet two of those three requirements — providing adequate sleep facilities and ensuring that workers received five hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

Although what constitutes “adequate sleeping facilities” is an issue of fact and can vary from case to case, a Field Assistance Bulletin issued by the DOL in late April 2016 says that the sleeping facilities for employees who work shifts of 24 hours or more, and who are not domestic service employees, are not required to be private. The Bulletin also says that an “uninterrupted night’s sleep” means that the employee is able to get five consecutive uninterrupted hours of sleep, and that interruptions to that five-hour period occur less than half the time that the employee works.

The lawsuit, along with the recently-issued Bulletin, confirm the DOL’s ongoing focus on employers’ compliance with sleep time laws. In a press release issued by the agency, Betty Campbell, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest, said that the lawsuit demonstrates the agency’s “commitment to ensuring that when people work, they get paid, and that hard working employees take home every penny they have rightfully earned.” The employer told Law360 that it plans to fight the charges leveled against it by the DOL.

The case is Perez U. S. Secretary of Labor v. Five Oaks Achievement Center LLC et al., No. 4:16-cv-03162, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.