The New York Times reported that the health care industry is the latest industry in the Department of Labor sights. After finding that hospitals and nursing homes are misclassifying workers, and failing to pay overtime correctly, the Department has obtained large settlements against Kaiser Permanente and SSM Health Care, and is pursuing residential care facilities. Two problems are commonplace. One is the classification of an employee as exempt from overtime, when the employee is not properly classified as exempt. The second is failing to pay overtime pay when employees actually work through unpaid meal breaks.
The automatic deduction of meal breaks has been a problem in many industries. An employee must be fully relieved of work obligations during a lunch or dinner period in order for the employer to mark it as unpaid. Yet many employees in high-paced workplaces are expected to answer the telephone, finish the report, or respond to patient needs during the break. This is especially the case with short meal breaks, which as a practical matter prevents an employee from leaving the worksite.
The Department of Labor is not the only danger for employers engaging in this behavior. Employees, alone or in groups, are empowered to sue their employers, and can receive double the unpaid pay as liquidated damages, as well as attorney’s fees.