Consider the new class action lawsuit that has been filed against Sutter Health for the alleged violation of State rules with regard to meal, and rest breaks. The suit was filed a month ago (May 6) in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of nurses, surgical technicians and ancillary staff who have toiled in the 26 hospitals beneath the Sutter umbrella since 2004.
This action is the third of its kind filed against Sutter with regard to the same issue—meal and rest breaks—and there is talk of combining the three class actions into one, large lawsuit that would serve to address the claims of a broad cross section of employees across the entire health care system.
Indeed, the most recent class action representing nurses, surgical technicians and ancillary staff represents a new plateau, given the broadening of the number, and type of employees now pursuing unpaid wages from Sutter, a health care giant that could be facing millions of dollars in unpaid wage settlements.
"We are aware that a third class action has been filed, and we'll vigorously defend it," Sutter spokeswoman Nancy Turner said. "The overtime, meal period and rest period allegations are similar, but the employee scope is larger. We are examining the allegations and will be filing our response in due course."
A decision last year by the California Supreme Court has effectively transformed the missed meal, and rest break issue into a hot commodity in State employment law, given the Court's decision that the issue extends to all businesses.
In February a class action lawsuit was filed against Catholic Healthcare West, which is the parent company to California-area Mercy hospitals, on the same issue. The suit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court February 4th.
To be fair, it could be next-to-impossible to effectively schedule meal, and rest breaks for certain employees, such as nurses and surgical technicians. Optimum patient care dictates that an attending nurse puts the welfare of the patient first, over his or her own. Meal, or rest breaks could easily be derailed when a patient is in distress and needs to be attended.
Similarly, surgical procedures can go long, thereby missing a needed meal, or rest break.
However, such breaks are there for a reason—to give those working in high-stress jobs the opportunity for proper nutrition, and rest. It is a proven fact that fatigued, and malnourished employees make a greater number of mistakes, and in a hospital setting such errors could be grievous in nature.
That said, one would expect that an employer in the hospital, or health care sector might expect to pay a premium to employees who routinely find that their meal, and rest breaks are deferred due to the demands of the job. Certainly, there should be compensation for the added stress of having to work in a highly charged environment without benefit of rest, or nutrition.
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To wit, there are a number of ways to foster unpaid California overtime. A series of missed meal, and rest breaks may seem on the surface to be inconvenient and unwise. In the end, however, in the absence of compensation for those missed breaks the employer is not only requiring you to work without compensation, but in reality you're working more hours per week than you should be.
Does that sound like unpaid overtime to you? Perhaps ask your lawyer if it sounds like that to her, too…