Healthcare facilities are increasingly becoming targets of collective action lawsuits under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Several recent lawsuits in Texas have challenged timekeeping practices related to meal breaks. For example, in a complaint filed against St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System in Houston, a former nurse alleged the hospital deprived her of overtime by automatically deducting 30 minutes for meal breaks.
These FLSA lawsuits directly attack automatic deduction practices and suggest employers should require employees to clock out for meal breaks and then clock in before resuming work. The plaintiffs further contend that nurses never receive bona fide meal breaks because they allegedly are required to remain responsible for patient care throughout their meal breaks, interruptions abound, and they are required to carry phones or electronic devices even while on breaks. Under the theory promoted in these recent lawsuits, healthcare facilities should not deduct any time for meal breaks taken by nurses due to the demands of the job—even if the nurse clocks out and eats a meal.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys are aggressively pursuing these types of overtime claims. The plaintiffs’ bar is actively soliciting clients with direct mailings to nurses and website advertising. Trying to stir interest and attract large numbers of plaintiffs, these firms also seek press coverage for their FLSA lawsuits.
With meal break and timekeeping procedures under increased scrutiny, healthcare facilities providing patient care may want to review their practices to ensure they comply with the FLSA and state wage laws. Employers may also want to carefully analyze whether meal break and timekeeping practices have been effectively communicated to employees.