Last week, a group of LVNs and RNs filed suit in a Texas federal court against the companies operating the Val Verde Regional Medical Center, bringing claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and related state laws. The plaintiffs allege that the defendants automatically deducted their pay for meal periods—regardless of whether a meal break was taken or whether employees were not completely relieved from their work duties. According to the lawsuit, the workers are entitled to compensation because the nature of the job requires performance of work during meal periods. The plaintiffs seek relief in the form of lost wages, liquidated damages, injunctive relief, and attorneys’ fees.
It is important to remember that this practice occurs in many different industries, including the hospital industry. Employers frequently fail to follow the FLSA’s rules for properly compensating employees for meal breaks. Under the FLSA, nonexempt employees must be paid at least the minimum wage for all hours worked, plus overtime pay at a rate of one and one half times the regular rate for hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek. Employees must be paid for all work that is “suffered or permitted.” For meal breaks, employers can deduct pay only if the break takes 30 minutes or more and only if the employee is completely free from job duties during the break. If any work is performed, the meal doesn’t count as a lunch break and remains paid time.
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