Have you ever felt pressured by your employer to not take your breaks? Have you been asked to sign a waiver saying missing your meal break is voluntary, but it doesn’t feel very voluntary? The California employees of Kindred Healthcare, Inc. found themselves in this position, and now the company has to pay them $16.5 million in back overtime and missed meal break compensation.
Your Work Break Rights
In California, there are several laws about paid and unpaid work breaks and when you can waive your right to these. You are allowed to waive your meal breaks two different ways. The first is if you’ll only be working for six hours. If you prefer (and your employer agrees!) to work the full six hours of your shift rather than take an unpaid 30-minute break, you are allowed to legally waive this break. If your shift is 12 hours long, you are legally entitled to two 30-minute breaks. You are allowed to waive the second one—but only if you took the first break. Either way, the choice to waive your meal breaks is yours. The employees in this case alleged that they were forced to give up their second meal break on a 12-hour shift as a condition of their employment.
Shortly before the case was to supposed to go to trial, and about a month before the settlement agreement was reached, Kindred began insisting that the employees had voluntarily waived their rights to the meal break and wanted more time to gather information on those who said they were coerced. Kindred asked to be allowed to interview each employee separately, but the judge was not sympathetic.
Waiting Time Pay
Other allegations included the company’s failure to follow waiting time pay rules and to pay overtime to hospital workers who were eligible. California law requires that employees be paid for the time they spend waiting to perform work. This applies to many types of jobs including first responders, hospital workers and even repair personnel who must wait for employers to direct them to the next on-site job. If you are at work, you must be paid for the time it takes to wait for work to happen—just as if you were physically working!
The settlement has not been approved by the judge yet, but according to the proposal in the class action suit, class members will be eligible to receive between $400 and $500 each.
If you feel you’ve been pressured to waive your meal breaks or not paid for your waiting time, contact our employment lawyers here for a free consultation.