Washington State Employment law. This decision will likely put many employers on the alert regarding overtime and Washington employee rights.
The Nurses overtime lawsuit (Nurses Association v. Sacred Heart Medical Center) held that a missed rest break extends the employee’s workday. For instance, if a nurse works an eight hour day but misses one rest break, she has worked the equivalent of 8.25 hours. This additional .25 hours of hours worked extends the work week beyond 40 hours a week, and that spells overtime. Because the length of the break period mandated by Washington law is 10 minutes, registered nurses are entitled to overtime compensation under the state Minimum Wage Act.
The Washington Supreme Court relied on a prior overtime decision in Wingert v. Yellow Freight Systems, Inc. regarding employees who are not provided their mandated rest break and their workday is extended by ten minutes. Yellow Freight employees alleged that their employer required them to work longer than three consecutive hours without a paid rest period.
According to court documents, Freight's employees are given a morning and an afternoon break and a lunch break during a regular workday as follows:
Now that registered nurses are entitled to overtime compensation for the first ten minutes, or the length of their rest period as mandated by Washington law, employers must be cognizant that their employees take their rest breaks. But how can, say, hospital administrators ensure that nurses take their legally mandated break—ten minutes for every four hours worked? In practical terms, there are patients to think about, and what nurse would put a patient at risk by taking a rest break?
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Washington State employers should also be aware that an employee’s work week is extended if a rest period is missed, even if the employee voluntarily waives his or her 10 minutes. (California employment law, on the other hand, mandates that an employee can voluntarily waive rest breaks.)
To date, it is uncertain how the nurses’ overtime decision regarding rest periods will affect meal breaks.