Employees of an Alabama nursing home have won a round in court over whether working during their lunch break without pay violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Eleventh Circuit Court last week revived a lawsuit filed by 44 employees at Robert L. Howard State Veterans Home, in Pell City, AL. The staff claims they were forced to work through lunch without pay, which is a violation of the FLSA.

Nurses, nursing assistants and other staffers said that, over a six-year period, the group worked almost 2,100 hours during what was supposed to be lunchtime, even though the veterans home and its parent company HMR deducted half an hour of pay each day for a meal.

The case can move forward, the three-judge panel ruled, with last week’s ruling overturning a previous dismissal of the lawsuit by the Northern District of Alabama. HMR argued descriptions of the lunchtime work weren’t sufficient enough to show that they were part of each employee’s primary duties. But the appeals court disagreed.

“It is reasonable to assume that caring for and tending to patients during the workday is a ‘principal activity’ of a nursing home employee, especially when that employee is employed in at least some capacity as a nurse,” the judges wrote.

The appeals court, however, upheld dismissal of a class action suit filed by the employees.

In an email to McKnight’s, Heyward Hilliard, vice president and chief operating officer of HMR of Alabama, emphasized that no determination of an FLSA violation has been made. He added that the Howard State Veterans Home never forces employees to work through their breaks, and employees who miss their lunch are given approval from supervisors to receive pay for that break. 

“The Alabama facility in question is a small-house design and state-of-the-art facility that encourages and promotes increased staff involvement in the lives of the veterans that are served, and they do a great job,” Hilliard told McKnight’s.