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Nurse Denied FLSA Claim for Failure to Follow Employer’s Policies

An emergency department nurse did not have regularly scheduled meal breaks given the nature of her position, but was permitted to take them as work demands allowed. The hospital’s employee handbook provided that employees were to receive unpaid meal periods, the time for which would be automatically deducted from their paycheck. Employees were instructed to report in an “exception log” any meal breaks which were missed or interrupted so that they could receive payment for that time worked. The nurse did report missed meal breaks from time to time, but did not always mark them in the exception log. Further, she did not report to human resources or supervisors that she was not being compensated for time spent working while she should have been on break.

The nurse filed suit against her employer for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, alleging that she and others similarly situated were not compensated for working during meal breaks. The hospital moved for summary judgment and to decertify the class, and the district court granted the motions. The nurse appealed.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the district court, finding that the nurse failed to follow the hospital’s procedures relating to reporting time worked in the exception log, despite admittedly knowing the policy, and that because she failed to follow the rules, the hospital would have no way to know that she was missing breaks or not being compensated for the time spent working. The Court, in citing to one of its own unpublished opinions, reasoned:

At the end of the day, an employee must show that the employer knew or should have known that he was working overtime or, better yet, he should report the overtime hours himself. Either way, the employee bears some responsibility for the proper implementation of the FLSA’s overtime provisions. An employer cannot satisfy an obligation that it has no reason to think exists. And an employee cannot undermine his employer’s efforts to comply with the FLSA by consciously omitting overtime hours for which he knew he could be paid. (See, e.g., Wood v. Mid-America Mgmt. Corp. (6th Cir. 2006) 192 F.Appx. 378, 381)

The Court further noted that each time the nurse followed the protocol, she was properly compensated for missed breaks or time worked during breaks. She could not, the Court reasoned, now seek to hold the hospital responsible for her own failure to follow the rules.

Wage and hour class actions are continuously on the rise. This case demonstrates the importance of having clear, express policies concerning the recording of hours worked. If you have questions about your own policies, or would like more information about White v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation.

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