Employment-Sixth Circuit Rules That Nurse Who Failed To Use The Hospital’s Time Reporting System Could Not Recover Wages For Missed Meal Breaks

In White v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., No. 11-5717 (6th Cir. 2012), the plaintiff, Margaret White (“White”), was appealing the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. (“Baptist”), on her claim under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) that Baptist had failed to pay her wages for missed meal breaks.

In this case, White was a nurse for Baptist, a hospital, from August 2005 to August 2007 and treated patients that came to the emergency department. She did not have a regularly scheduled meal break due to the nature of her job at the hospital. Meal breaks occurred during her shift as work demands allowed. The employee handbook instructed employees to record all time spent performing work during meal breaks in an “exception log” whenever the meal break was partially or entirely interrupted. Though she did so initially, eventually White stopped reporting her missed meal breaks in the exception log, and Baptist did not pay her for the unreported missed breaks. This suit for the unpaid missed meal breaks ensued.

In analyzing the case, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) noted that time an employee spends working during a meal period is compensable under the FLSA. If an employer knows or has reason to believe that a worker is continuing to work, then the time is compensable working time (29 C.F.R. § 785.11). Therefore, the issue is whether Baptist knew or had reason to know it was not compensating White for working during her meal breaks. The burden is on White to establish the knowledge or constructive knowledge. Under the FLSA, if an employer establishes a reasonable process for an employee to report uncompensated work time, the employer is not liable for the non-payment if the employee fails to follow the established process. The Court said that, since White did not report the missed meal time in the exception log-as the employee handbook required-Baptist did not know, and should not have known, about the work during the missed meal periods. As such, the Court concluded that White’s claim for the unpaid wages fails, and it affirmed the district court’s summary judgment.