What happens when the demands of the job force an employee to work through an unpaid meal break? Is the employer violating wage and hour laws if it fails to pay the person for the time?
Not necessarily. It depends on whether you’ve set down procedures for employees to report the extra time worked, and whether they use the procedures.
A recent case involving a Tennessee hospital sheds light on the issue.
A nurse sued for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), claiming she regularly missed part or all of her unpaid meal breaks due to unforeseen work demands.
The nurse said that, at first, she complied with the hospital’s policy of reporting this time in an “exception log.” But she eventually stopped doing so, feeling it was an “uphill battle.”
Employer didn’t have to guess
The courts said the hospital didn’t owe the nurse. The hospital had created a method for employees to report when their meal breaks were interrupted or missed. When the nurse took advantage of that method, she was paid for her missed mealtimes. The employer couldn’t be expected to guess that she wasn’t being paid for interruptions she didn’t report.
Takeaway: Make sure that non-exempt employees know to report not only any overtime worked, but also any ordinarily unpaid meal breaks they have to skip because of work demands.
Cite: White v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., No. 11-5717, 6th Cir., 11/6/12.
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