Lunch Drama

Nurses getting taken advantage of at local hospitals? Lawsuits raise serious issues

Nurses taken advantage of at local hospitals? Lawsuits raise issues

North Cypress Medical Center
North Cypress Medical Center is the second area hospital being sued for having nurses work through their unpaid lunch breaks. homeofficehouston.com
News_Methodist Hospital_Dunn Tower_July 2010
A lawsuit against Methodist Hospital was brought forward in May of this year for also not paying nurses for working through lunch. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital
North Cypress Medical Center
News_Methodist Hospital_Dunn Tower_July 2010

Houston nurses are allegedly not receiving the compensation they deserve for working through their lunch breaks — 30 minutes which are automatically deducted from their pay — at least two area hospitals.

Back in May, a local federal lawsuit was filed against Houston Methodist Hospital by one of its former nurses, Joy Corcione, on behalf of more than 5,000 co-workers. The suit alleged that the hospital system "owes back wages to the nurses, nursing assistants, patient-care assistants and associates because they're required to respond to patient calls, meet with physicians and perform other work duties during their lunch breaks."

Then this week, a nurse filed suit against a second area hospital, North Cypress Medical Center, claiming that she also had to work through her unpaid lunch breaks.

 If the employees are still doing work-related activities — such as checking email or answering work calls — even while eating lunch, that is considered work time. 

"Basically they were interrupted by supervisors coming to her, she had to wear a phone so she could be contacted through her shift to answer questions, solve problems," the nurse's attorney, Alex Mabry, tells Fox 26.

Mabry says his client is certainly not the only nurse at North Cypress Medical Center who was expected to work through their lunch breaks.

"It happened to essentially all the direct care employees to one degree or another and the nurses we talked to," Mabry says. "It was an on-going thing."

The attorney for North Cypress Medical Center insist his clients "follow all federal guidelines and laws regarding meal breaks and their policy is consistent with policies at other comparable hospitals," Fox 26 reports.

Mabry cites improvements in the economy as the reason for lawsuits of this type. Whereas previously an employee might not complain about a problem of this type simply because they were happy to have any job, things are changing.

"You're starting to see people stand up for their legal rights," Mabry says. "Because they know they have a better chance of finding another job. They're not quite as desperate as they were to hold onto their jobs."

Corcione's earlier Methodist lawsuit claims that sometimes nurses and patient-care workers aren't allowed the time to eat lunch because they are too busy, although the time spent working during lunch is automatically deducted from their pay regardless of the situation.

Methodist Hospital responded in a written statement saying that the system makes sure to pay employees "appropriately even if their lunch is interrupted to care for patients" and that hospital officials "take great strides to ensure a fair compensation process and a fair work environment."

"We will address any claims during the litigation process," the hospital said in the statement.

Federal labor law states that employers do not have to pay for employees lunch breaks when they are not working. If the employees are still doing work-related activities — such as checking email or answering work calls — even while eating lunch, that is considered work time and must be paid.

Covering seven of the hospital's locations around the Houston area, attorney Gavin Kennedy of Kennedy Hodges said that his initial research found that many nurses at Methodist regularly work through lunch. As of Dec. 12, nurses who are eligible have 60 days from that date to join the lawsuit.