Earlier this week, the Sixth Circuit found in favor of an employer whose employee alleged that it had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when it did not compensate the employee for missed meals periods that she failed to report pursuant to the employer’s policy.  In White v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., the hospital’s policy specified that an unpaid meal break was automatically deducted from any employee’s paycheck for a shift of six hours or more. When an employee’s meal break was missed or interrupted, the employee would be compensated for his or her time, and was instructed to record this time in an “exception log.” Plaintiff admitted that she was compensated when she recorded her time in the log. However, she alleged that she was not compensated when she failed to record her missed meal breaks. Although plaintiff alleged that she told her supervisors from time to time that she was not getting a meal break, she never informed them that she was not being compensated for this time.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendant employer, stating “[u]nder the FLSA, if an employer establishes a reasonable process for an employee to report uncompensated work time the employer is not liable for non-payment if the employee fails to follow the established process.” Because the plaintiff failed to follow the employer’s reporting policy, she “thwart[ed] the employer’s ability to comply with the FLSA.” And because there was no evidence that the hospital discouraged employees from reporting missed meals or that it was otherwise notified that employees were failing to report their missed meals, the Sixth Circuit affirmed that plaintiff could not recover under the FLSA. 

While the Sixth Circuit’s decision does not shelter employers who turn a blind eye to the hours its employees work, it does provide protection to employers that, as a result of employees’ actions (or inactions), are not made aware of uncompensated work time. In light of White, employers should review their policies and consider clarifying the employee’s duty to report missed meal breaks and overtime.