Hospital Violates FLSA by Requiring Employees To Monitor Phones or Other Devices During Lunch Breaks

A United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin recently granted a conditional class certification to Certified Nursing Assistants (“CNAs”) and housekeepers employed by Waukesha Memorial Hospital (“Waukesha”). These employees allege that Waukesha violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by not compensating them for on-duty meal periods in which they were entitled to overtime pay. Plaintiff’s allege every employee at Waukesha is subject to an automatic thirty minute meal period which is deducted from their pay. However, Waukesha requires these employees to carry, monitor, and respond to hospital-assigned communication devices during this meal period without overtime compensation. The employees' failure to respond to calls made to them during their meal period often resulted in disciplinary action and discharge of employment.

The Fair Labor Standards Act provides these employees a remedy to recover unpaid overtime compensation as a collective group. FLSA regulations require that during a lunch break:

The employee must be completely relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals. Ordinarily, 30 minutes or more is long enough for a bona fide meal period. A shorter period may be long enough under special conditions. The employee is not relieved if he is required to perform any duties, whether active or inactive while eating. For example, an office employee who is required to eat at his desk or a factory worker who is required to be at his machine is working while eating.

The court in Waukesha found that plaintiffs made a sufficient factual showing that CNAs and housekeepers were required to monitor and respond to their communication devices during meal breaks, were uncompensated for this overtime work, and were subject to disciplinary action if they did not immediately respond to these devices. The court held that Waukesha could have violated the FLSA by failing to ensure the CNAs and housekeepers were compensated for all work completed, including the “inactive” task of monitoring a communication device and remaining available to readily respond. The court therefore granted plaintiffs conditional class certification and Waukesha will be forced to provide plaintiffs with a list identifying all persons known to Waukesha who meet the class-certification definitions.

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