A decision out of the Northern District of California serves as a reminder that service industries need to carefully balance their commitment to client care with wage and hour obligations. A case manager at a large medical facility filed a class action claim under the California Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) against the facility for multiple violations of federal and California law, including failure to pay overtime wages and failure to provide meal and rest breaks.  The crux of her complaint was that she and other employees felt pressured to work off-the-clock in order to adequately tend to a larger number of patients after “cost-cutting measures” increased each employee’s workload.

The plaintiff alleged that the medical staff had to work through meal and rest periods and after their shifts ended to fulfill their duties for each patient. They would continue inputting patient notes and processing insurance claims after clocking out. According to the plaintiff, the defendant has electronic record systems that capture the time at which patient information is entered, showing that employees regularly enter patient notes and insurance claims after clocking out for the day. The plaintiff claimed that employees also regularly worked more than five hours without a meal because their performance reviews were largely dependent on dedication to timely patient care.

When the defendant medical center moved to dismiss the overtime and meal and rest break claims, the court denied the motion, repeatedly citing plaintiff’s allegations that the facility’s employees felt “required” to work off-the-clock. The defendant attempted to argue that the complaint failed to state why the plaintiff did not clock her overtime for the additional time she spent inputting patient data.  Although a plaintiff is not actually required explain exactly why she did not clock overtime, the court emphasized plaintiff’s allegations that employees felt required to do so after budget cuts resulted in a higher patient-to-employee ratio. When the medical facility also attempted to argue that the complaint failed to explain “how or why Plaintiff and the proposed class were deprived of meal breaks,” again the court referenced the plaintiff’s allegations regarding the budget cuts.  Additionally, the court cited the claims made about the facility’s policies, holding that the plaintiff sufficiently alleged that the defendant “discouraged taking rest and lunch breaks by emphasizing in performance reviews and policies that patient care should be the priority.”

It is important for employers to ensure that their employees are able to timely and successfully complete their duties, especially if considering reducing staff due to budgetary concerns. Employees in service-based industries such as healthcare may feel compelled to miss a meal or rest period or work off-the-clock to help a client or patient or for fear of poor performance reviews.

If you have any questions about this case, please contact Ashley Evans or Dale Kuykendall in Jackson Lewis’ Sacramento office, or the Jackson Lewis attorney with whom you regularly work.