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New Focus on Wage and Hour Claims in Health Care



Health Care appears to be the latest industry targeted for wage-and-hour enforcement by the federal government and private parties. The New York Times reports that hospitals around the country have paid millions of dollars in back wages to settle claims by the government and employees. And many more hospitals are fighting class-action lawsuits that raise the same issues.

The Labor Department has hired 250 new wage-and-hour investigators, representing a staff increase of one-third. The government wants to make sure workers get “every penny they earn,” said Kenneth Stripling, a Labor Department official leading enforcement efforts in Birmingham, Ala.   Nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, janitors and cooks “are particularly vulnerable to wage violations,” Mr. Stripling said.   

One common area of investigation involves claims that  employees were not paid for work performed during meal breaks.  While bona fide meal periods are not work time and must not be paid, DOL regulations make clear that hourly employees “must be completely relieved from duty” during a bona fide meal period.  “It is the duty of the management to exercise its control and see that the work is not performed” if the employer does not intend to pay for it.   Therefore, if a hospital’s practice is to automatically reduce an employee’s pay by the equivalent of 30 minutes per shift, on the assumption that the worker has taken a meal break, the hospital may be in violation of the FLSA where the employee missed the break or it was interrupted

In other cases, the Labor Department has found that hospitals failed to pay hourly employees for work before or after their scheduled shifts, and that home care agencies did not pay employees for time spent in travel between patients’ homes.

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