According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has started investigating pay practices throughout the health care industry after hospitals around the country have been sued based on the failure to pay proper overtime to nurses and other employees who work more than 40 hours a week.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) provides that all non-exempt employees must receive overtime compensation at a rate of one and one half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours in any workweek. Where employers fail to pay overtime compensation, workers may have claims under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
Recently, lawsuits in St. Louis, Boston, and California have recovered millions of dollars in back wages for employees. In many of these cases, employees asserted they were improperly classified as exempt. Employees are typically exempt if they make more than a certain amount of money per week and if they perform a certain type of “white collar” work. If they do not fall within one of these or any other exemption, employers are required to pay overtime.
Employees also alleged they were not paid for all work performed during off work time – such as during meal breaks. Where employees are required to work and unable to take scheduled meal breaks, they must be compensated.
In response to these lawsuits and a growing concern that health care workers are often denied sufficient overtime compensation based on similar practices across the health care industry, the Department of Labor has hired hundreds of new wage and hour investigators and is looking at practices in health care facilities across the country.
As one Labor Department official notes, “nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, janitors and cooks are particularly vulnerable to wage violations.”