Ty Hyderally is a NJ employment lawyer who shares his expertise on many occasions. He travels extensively to speak to a wide variety of audiences on the topic of employment law in an effort to educate both employees and employers on how to maintain a safe workplace for everyone. Tayeb Hyderally works with corporate officials to develop policies and procedures which help protect the company from law suits regarding employment law. Each company is responsible for having policies in place which protect employees as well as well defined procedures for employees to follow if they feel they have been treated unfairly. One of the most common law suits against employers has to do with the Fair Labor Standards Act. As in this case, the tendency of the courts is to reject class and collective actions involving meal break deductions.
Camilotes v. Resurrection Health Care Corporation
In this case, nurses filed a case against a very large hospital system, Resurrection Health Care Corporation. The nurses alleged that the hospital was in violation of both the FLSA and the Illinois Minimum Wage Law. Nurses claimed that they were not being paid for working through meal breaks since meal breaks are automatically deducted from their paychecks. They sent notices to over 5000 nurses and just over 200 nurses opted to participate in the litigation process. These 209 nurses were representative of 8 separate hospitals and 198 different departments. All of the hospitals automatically deduct time taken for meal periods and each of the hospitals in the system has its own Human Resources Director and Chief Nursing Officer. Each department implements its own meal policies so that their particular needs are met. When, how often and whether or not nurses got a meal break varied between all the departments based on their particular job duties and the environment in which they worked. In the way of an example, nurses who worked in the emergency room regularly had meal breaks that were uninterrupted but nurses who worked in a unit which worked with mothers and babies rarely got an uninterrupted meal break. The evidence showed wide differences in how nurses reported their missed meal breaks and these differences often occurred in the same department. There was also some evidence that nurses had cancelled their automatic deductions on many occasions and they were consequently paid for those times which they worked.
The court cited the numerous federal court decisions as well as a fact sheet provided by the US Department of Labor and held that if employees are indeed being paid for the entirety of the time worked then the policy of automatic deductions does not alone violate the FLSA. Because of all the differences presented to the court, they found that the plaintiffs could not be bound together into a collective action. Since there were so many work settings presented along with various differences in meal period experiences, the court stated that they were “too dissimilarly situated to proceed as a collective action under the FLSA.”
Automatic Deduction for Meal Breaks under the FLSA
Most of the cases are granting employers the right to automatically deduct meal breaks from employees. But there are some steps that companies can take to ensure that they are not in violation of the FLSA. Employees need to be aware of how to use the timekeeping systems properly, provide instructions on how to record meal periods that are missed and offer useable ways to cancel automatic deductions when it is appropriate. It is also important for employers to post the guidelines in the area with the time clock so that it is easily accessible to employees.