- A group of Alabama nursing home workers will get another chance to argue that they worked for the Robert L. Howard Veterans Home for years without proper pay (Cooley v. HMR Alabama, Inc., No. 18-10657, (11th Cir., Sept. 6, 2018)).
- The plaintiffs said it was the nursing home's policy to automatically deduct 30-minute meal breaks from their pay, whether or not they took a meal break. And when they took an uncompensated meal break, they frequently were not completely relieved of their work duties, they alleged. A federal district court dismissed the suit because they failed to adequately identify the type of compensable work performed during breaks.
- The 11th Circuit, however, disagreed with the lower court, finding that the work identified in the complaint — "caring for patient needs" and "tending to patients" — plausibly suggested they were entitled to relief under the FLSA.
The FLSA requires that employees be paid for all hours worked and that employers maintain accurate records of the hours worked. The FLSA doesn't expressly prohibit automatic deductions, but they can be risky.
Auto-deducted lunch breaks have landed plenty of employers in hot water. Earlier this summer, the Lubbock County Hospital District, agreed to pay almost $120,000 in back wages to 197 emergency room workers to settle wage and hours claims stemming from automatically deducted lunch breaks.
Employers implement automatic deductions for a number of reasons, but those who choose to do so must implement a policy and regularly train new hires, employees and supervisors on how to use it, according to employment law attorneys at Franczek Radelet. The policy and procedure must provide ways for employees to report changes. The best practice is to require employees to clock out and back in for breaks, but automatic deductions can be an option if policies and practices are carefully structured, they said.
If employers choose to adopt exceptions timekeeping, employees must sign off on time records, according to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. Moreover, experts have said that tracking only total hours can be risky. While an employer may not violate the FLSA's compensation requirements by allowing an employee to sign off on a schedule that is correct only in terms of total hours worked, such a practice might not comply with the mandate for accurate records.