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Employee's Failure to Report Missed Meal Breaks Prevents Wage Claim for Unpaid Time

By Thomas P. Brady / Nov 15, 2012

In White v Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation , 19 WH Cases 2d 1441 (CA 6 2012), the Sixth Circuit held that an employee's failure to note missed meal breaks on Baptist's exception logs, as required by Baptist's employment policies, prevented her from bringing a class action to recover for unpaid meal breaks that she worked.

Baptist handbook indicated that employees working shifts of six or more hours were entitled to a 30 minute unpaid meal break that was automatically deducted from the employee's paycheck.  If the employee's meal break was missed or interrupted because of work, the policy required the employee to note the missed or interrupted meal break in an exception log and Baptist would pay the employee for the meal break.  Baptist also had a policy to report and correct errors in an employee's payroll.

Plaintiff, an emergency room nurse, acknowledged receiving and understanding the policies.  She was paid for interrupted or missed meal breaks when she noted them in the exception log.  At some in time, plaintiff stopped noting missed meal breaks in the log.  Later, she filed a class action lawsuit against Baptist alleging violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for failing to compensate her for work during her lunch break.  The lower court dismissed plaintiff's claim granting Baptist's motions for summary judgment and class decertification.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit noted that the FLSA requires employers pay employees for all time worked.  The FLSA permits automatic meal deduction systems if the employee is paid for time the meal period is interrupted for work.  However, if the "employer knows or has reason to believe that [a worker] is continuing to work [then] the time is working time."  Relying on overtime cases from the United States Fifth, Eighth and Ninth Circuits, the Court held that "[If] an employer establishes a reasonable process for an employee to report uncompensated work time, the employer is not liable for non-payment if the employee fails to follow the established process."

Affirming the lower court's dismissal, the Court held, " Baptist established a system to compensate its workers for time worked during meal breaks. When White utilized the system she was compensated and when she failed to use the system she was not compensated. Without evidence that Baptist prevented White from utilizing the system to report either entirely or partially missed meal breaks, White cannot recover damages from Baptist under the FLSA. "

Practice Pointers

Under Baptist , employers should:

  • Ensure that they have a policy which requires employees to report failure to pay compensation for time worked, including meal times missed.
  • Ensure that they have a procedure for employees to report mistakes in their pay.
  • Provide these policies to the employees and obtain acknowledgement that the employees have received and understand the policies.
  • Train supervisors to notify payroll if the supervisor knows that the employee is working and not being compensated for the work.
  • Investigate and remedy any pay discrepancies.

If you have any questions about the Baptist case or any wage and hour issue please contact Thomas P. Brady at (313) 965-8291 or tbrady@clarkhill.com or another member of Clark Hill's Labor and Employment Practice Group.