In December, I blogged about off-the-clock work in my post Unreported, Off-the-Clock Work.  Off-the-clock work includes meal break time, and issues arise when employees work during these breaks, or claim that they work during these breaks, but are not paid.  Recently, an Ohio federal judge decertified a class of employees who alleged that their employer’s meal break policy violated the FLSA.  The judge decertified the class action suit because the workers’ experiences were too diverse to justify the class.

The case, Creely v. HCR ManorCare Inc. et al., was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the case number is 3:09-cv-02879.

The employer, HCR ManorCare Inc., (“HCR”) has more than 44,000 hourly employees.  A class of 318 nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified assistants, and admissions coordinators claimed that employees missed meal breaks and were not properly compensated because HCR failed to  ensure that employees were paid.  Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that HCR failed to train employees on how to report incidents where they worked during meal breaks, and even in some instances, actively discouraged employees from doing so.  The judge however, decertified the conditional class because the claims presented varying accounts of what instructions these workers received on claiming wages earned while working through meal breaks (since wages were automatically deducted for meal break time).

Although this class was decertified, this decision demonstrates the overriding importance for employers to maintain reasonable procedures for employees to report ostensible work performed during meal times.  To avoid incidents like this, employers should ensure that employees are properly trained to report their time and managers are keenly aware of their employees working, or seeking to work, through lunch.