Companies that impose automatic time deductions for meal breaks risk exposure to class-wide liability under the FLSA if they end up shorting nonexempt employees for hours worked due to interrupted or skipped lunch breaks. A recent spate of lawsuits against healthcare employers for alleged failure to pay wages due to such policies demonstrates this.
Companies use meal break auto-deductions for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because automated timekeeping systems require a default meal period to be input. In other instances, the time expended getting to and from a remote time clock might be so great to make a default deduction preferable. In still other cases, employees might view punching in and out for lunch as motivated by employer micromanagement, making auto-deduction a kinder and gentler method of accounting for time. The FLSA risk arises when the employer fails to adopt practices that account for actual variation (i.e. the shorted lunch hour interrupted by work). If auto-deduction is the only practical method available of accounting for unpaid lunch breaks, companies should be able to help avoid FLSA liability by taking these steps:
- Inform employees that they’re required to report any variation in the length of their lunch break to their supervisor so that their time record can be adjusted.
- Require supervisors to review and sign off on time records to ensure that they reflect actual hours worked.
- Make sure that the employee handbook advises employees that they should report any improper deductions or errors in their pay to their supervisor or to human resources promptly so that appropriate corrections can be made.
Finally, if you’re only using auto-deduction to avoid the “micromanaged employee” syndrome, consider explaining that punching in and out is not required for punitive reasons, but to ensure that employees are fully and fairly compensated.
Article courtesy of WorklawÂ® Network firm Shawe Rosenthal (www.shawe.com).