Temple Hospital is one of seven area hospitals named in a class action suit over unpaid hours.
The Temple University Health System is being sued for allegedly failing to compensate employees who work through their mid-shift breaks.
Thomas and Solomon LLP, a law firm based in Rochester, N.Y., filed the suit against the University of Pennsylvania Health System, Jefferson Health System, Mercy Health System, Albert Einstein Healthcare Network, Abington Memorial Hospital, Aria Health System (formerly Frankford Healthcare System) and TUHS.
“Our team’s investigation into the pay practices of the health care industry has shown that many employers automatically deduct the time for a meal period, even when that employee did not get an uninterrupted meal period,” the attorneys’ Web site reads. “It is against the law for your employer to not pay you for a meal period when you are interrupted or miss it. Federal law and regulations clearly state such time must be paid.
“Really, what the employer is doing is ‘stealing time’ from you,” it goes on to state. “Your employer would fire you if you automatically added a half-an-hour a day to your time, whether you worked it or not. It is just as wrong for your employer to automatically take a half-an-hour of time away from you each day whether you worked through your meal period or not.”
Rebecca Harmon, public relations director for TUHS, said officials believe their employees have been properly compensated for all of their work.
“Temple is one of several local hospitals and health systems named as defendants in this class-action lawsuit, and similar suits have been filed around the state and elsewhere,” Harmon said.
Kathleen Casey, the communications specialist for the union representing the Temple nurses and health professionals, said while the union is not directly involved in the lawsuit, they do support it.
Registered nurse Kim Johnson said she participated in a survey questioning Temple’s practices handling compensation for working through breaks and working overtime.
Johnson said even though she does not work overtime, she understands working through breaks to be a common hospital practice and has witnessed Temple’s failure to compensate their employees.
“I do know people who have been working through their breaks, and [TUHS] have not paid that person,” Johnson said.
Registered nurse Francine Fregghi also said she has not had any history with Temple failing to compensate her during breaks because the department she works for has strictly regulated break times.
“I’m vice president, so I hear a lot and I’m involved in grievances that [nurses] might take to Temple,” Fregghi said.
According to a fact sheet by the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration’s Wage and Hour division, meal periods that take 30 minutes or more are not work time, and an employer does not have to pay for them.
However, for a break to qualify as a “meal period,” an employee must be completely relieved from duty and work-related responsibility for the duration of the meal. If the employer chooses to automatically deduct the 30-minute pay from the employee’s paycheck, the employer must be sure the employee was able to take an uninterrupted break from his or her work.
The Department of Labor cited the example: “A skilled nursing facility automatically deducts one half hour for meal breaks each shift. Upon hiring, the employer notifies employees of the policy and of their responsibility to take a meal break. Does this practice comply with FLSA? Yes, but the employer is still responsible for ensuring that the employees take the 30-minute meal break without interruption.”
The Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, states the department’s standards and practices in regards to labor, wage and compensation laws. For those institutions FLSA affects, employees must be paid for all hours worked.
According to the attorneys’ Web site, they are still in the process of investigating.
“We believe our employees have been properly paid for all work performed,” Harmon said. “And we will aggressively defend our position.”
Valerie Rubinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.