Automatic Deductions from Pay for Meal Breaks

On October 7, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review a decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals that has important implications for employers who automatically deduct wages for meal breaks from employees’ pay. In White v. Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, the plaintiff sought overtime based on time allegedly worked during her meal breaks.  The Sixth Circuit granted summary judgment to the employer finding that it lacked actual or constructive knowledge of the unpaid work allegedly performed by the plaintiff during her meal breaks, which the employee had not reported to the employer. In White, the employer had a procedure for employees to follow when they were required to work during meal breaks, provided training to employees about reporting work performed during breaks, and included a provision in the employee handbook about time keeping standards and meal breaks. The facts also established that the plaintiff was aware of the procedures. The Sixth Circuit found that, because the employee did not follow any of the employer’s procedures for reporting time worked during meals, the employer did not know or have reason to know that the employee was working during breaks and should have been compensated for that work.

The Supreme Court’s refusal to review this decision suggests that employers who use automatic deductions for meal breaks may be able to avoid liability for unpaid wages arising from work performed during such meal breaks, if they have procedures in place for employees to report time worked and/or correct time records, have training to educate employees about the procedure to be followed when they work during otherwise unpaid time, and have policies that clearly explain the procedures.

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