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Medical Field Scrutinized in Unpaid Wage/Overtime Claims

The health care field is one segment of the economy that continues to grow impressively, for a multitude of reasons. Health reform is always at or near the top of legislators' agendas, and the reforms recently enacted during the Obama administration have led to workforce adjustments and expansions. A given, too, is the aging American population, with a rapidly increasing baby boomer component now designated "senior" that is beginning to place heavy exactions on hospitals and clinics throughout the country.

New medical workers are being hired all the time, and many of them - from nurses and technicians to staff and maintenance - are working rushed, with longer hours and missed meal periods. While that may be considered necessary for patient care, it is illegal when the line blurs between work and breaks, forcing a worker who is considered to be "off duty" to continue working on his or her job without being paid. Time spent working while ostensibly being on break renders the break compensable work time, and an employer who does not pay for a worker's scheduled missed meal period is in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The health care industry is a focal point of this concern because of its singular nature, with patients' needs complicating routine and unvaried worker schedules. Medical workers frequently eat on the run or forgo a portion of their breaks. This is difficult to monitor, both for them and for hospital/clinic administrators.

Nonetheless, it needs to be done, and better. The Department of Labor ("DOL") is closely scrutinizing the industry and what it deems as a real problem with unpaid wages and overtime. The DOL recently recovered almost $3 million in back wages for employees of a Boston hospital system, and settled for nearly $2 million with a St. Louis hospital on the same issue.

The government is also increasing its investigations into nursing homes and assisted-living centers. The bottom line is that employers in the health care area are an inviting target of inquiry and need to ensure compliance with wage laws.

Related Resource: "Hospitals and nursing homes are focus of the Department of Labor over wage violations" August 19, 2010

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