Ask the legal expert: common traps providers fall into when calculating employee compensation
Attorney John Durso, Ungaretti & Harris LLP
Recently, healthcare employers have been sued under the Fair Labor Standards Act and other statutory and common law liability theories for automatically deducting meal breaks that were not always taken. Automatically deducting meal breaks is not a per se violation of the FLSA, but the break must, of course, be taken to justify the deduction from compensable time.Generally, meal breaks are not compensable if break time is not spent predominantly for the employer's benefit. The problem in long-term care facilities is that interrupted meal breaks are common where circumstances require immediate attention.
If an employee sues his or her employer for wage and hour violations, the employer has the burden of proving the hours actually worked by the employee. If the employee later claims that he or she worked through lunch most days, the employer will have difficulty proving that the employee actually took a full lunch break each and every day for which an automatic meal break deduction is made.The best protection is to require hourly employees to clock out and in for meal breaks, with the understanding that the employee is completely relieved from duty. Make it mandatory for employees to take their meal breaks and discipline those who refuse.