The controversial payroll policy has been 'standard practice' for many healthcare organizations, the hospital said.
Under pressure from the U.S. Department of Labor, a Texas hospital recently ended its practice of automatically deducting 30-minute lunch breaks from its employees' time cards.
Lubbock County Hospital District's University Medical Center (UMC) in Lubbock, Texas, paid $119,175 in back wages to 197 healthcare workers in the hospital's emergency department to settle alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), according to a DOL announcement.
Investigators found that the hospital had been recording lunch breaks for its employees regardless of whether they actually stopped working to eat. The government accused the hospital of FLSA violations pertaining to overtime pay and recordkeeping.
In a statement, the hospital confirmed that it had quit using automatic deductions, while noting that the system it had been using is common in the industry, as EverythingLubbock.com reported.
"Automatic deductions for lunch has been a standard practice for many hospitals and other health care facilities. UMC had methods by which employees could report a missed lunch, but those methods were not effective in capturing all missed lunches," the UMC statement said.
"UMC values its employees and works to assure accurate payment," it added.
Ryan Martin, assistant district director for the DOL Wage and Hour Division's Lubbock-area office, encouraged employers to proactively review their policies to avoid problems like the ones UMC encountered.
"Wage violations can be avoided when employers understand the rules," Martin said. "We encourage employers to contact us for guidance on laws governing rest breaks and any other requirements so they can avoid violations. The division offers many tools to help employers comply."
When an employer discovers overtime or minimum-wage violations, they may self-report them to DOL and resolve the matter without litigation through the Payroll Audit Independent Determination (PAID) program.
Steven Porter is editor at HealthLeaders.