I have blogged many times about the use of automatic lunch deduction time clocks and the inherent dangers that reside in such a procedure. Well, as if more proof was needed on the dangers of this protocol, a major medical center has agreed to pay $1,500,000 to settle a case under the Fair Labor Standards Act in which a class of nurses claimed that this timekeeping system docked them for meals they never took and for time that they worked through lunch. The case is entitled Manning v. Boston Medical Center Corporation and was filed in federal court in the District of Massachusetts.

The plaintiff had sued five years ago, claiming that the automatic timekeeping system unfairly and improperly deducted time for meals and breaks from employee hours worked, but there were numerous times that the employee(s) worked through their breaks. Nevertheless, the supervisor would yet deduct the “lunch time” from the total hours worked. A lot of time and effort and attorney fees would have gone to calculating (or determining) how much each individual should “truly” receive. Thus, the parties indicated to the Court that the “proposed settlement agreement will provide a fair and reasonable recovery to BMC’s patient care employees who had potential claims challenging BMC’s pay practices under the FLSA.” The case has meandered up and down the federal system for five years.

The settlement fund is given the interesting moniker of a “maximum gross settlement amount.” It will handle administration/mediation costs and employer payroll taxes. The lawyers will receive 33% of the settlement. The Company got the typical non-admissions language as a part of the settlement. The Medical Center defended by asserting that the plaintiffs could not show that the alleged lunchtime work was performed with the Center’s knowledge. To date, there are four plaintiffs, over 71 valid opt-in plaintiffs and more than 5,000 putative class members. The joint motion contended that “if the proposed agreement is not approved by the court, the parties face an extended and costly battle.”

This could have been prevented. Future suits like this can be prevented through the simple use of a fail-safe system, like overtime approval sheets or time sheets that are certified to by the employees. When being proactive is this easy to do and class actions still seep through, it really bothers me