Are You Being Paid for the Lunch Period you Worked Through: Dangers of Auto-deduct Policies

Ellie is a certified nursing technician in a nursing home. She generally works 40 hours a week, and when she works over 40 she is owed time and a half for those hours over 40. She enjoys her job and works hard at it. She puts patient care first and often works through lunch or grabs a sandwich between checking on patients. That is all admirable; however, it may be that Ellie is not being fairly compensated under the law for all the hours that she works. Ellie’s employer uses a computer program that deducts 30 minutes each day for a lunch period. On those days where Ellie isn’t able to take a full 30-minute, uninterrupted lunch, time is still deducted from her pay. Thirty minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but over a period of a year, Ellie, who makes $12 an hour, is losing around $2,200 a year! Wow!

Employers are increasing their demands of workers – asking workers to work harder, take on more tasks, and put in as much time as needed in order to get the job done. All of those things are perfectly legal, as long as employees are paid for the time that they work. For example, if you are an hourly worker and you work over 40 hours per week in order to do your job, you generally should be paid time and half for hours worked over 40.

There are some exceptions, and in some cases it is legal to pay employees a “salary” rather than counting the hours they work and then paying overtime. However, merely paying an employee a salary is not enough to exempt the employee from payment for overtime hours; that decision depends on the type of work the employee performs. If you have a question about whether you are correctly classified as a salaried employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act, please contact The Higgins Firm for a free consultation.

If an employee is truly an hourly employee, the employer needs a system to keep track of the hours the employees work in order to pay them correctly. Some employers use time-keeping machines and an employee must “punch” this time clock when beginning or ending their work day. Other employers use old-fashioned pen and paper to keep track of hours worked. There are other employers who have software programs that an employee must log on and off in order to keep track of their time.

In an effort to streamline their time-keeping procedures some employers, like Ellie’s, have instituted “auto-deduct” policies for lunch periods. There is nothing wrong with auto-deduct policies as long as there is a simple way to override the system, so that when an employee works through lunch they are paid for that time. Keep in mind, that the employer needs to provide a lunch period that is uninterrupted – so if you start your lunch but get called back into service, even if you get to finish your sandwich later, if you didn’t get the full 30 minutes of uninterrupted time, you should be paid for that 30 minute period.

If your employer uses an auto-deduct policy, and you are not being paid for the time you work, you may be entitled to backpay wages going as far back as two or three years. For Ellie that could amount to close to $8,000! If you have questions about whether you have been properly paid for the hours you’ve worked, contact one of the Tennessee Overtime Pay Lawyers at The Higgins Firm.

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