The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act brought by an employee who failed to follow her employer’s policy for reporting uncompensated work time. In Margaret White v. Baptist Mem’l Health Care Corp., the employer, Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. (“Baptist”), automatically deducted meal breaks from pay checks of employees who worked shifts of more than six hours like Margaret White. However, if an employee’s meal break was missed or interrupted because of a work-related reason, the employee was to record the time in an “exception log” to ensure compensation. This policy and procedure was outlined in Baptist’s employee handbook, a copy of which White signed. White was also aware of Baptist’s procedure for reporting and correcting payroll records – to notify a nurse manager.
White, a nurse in the emergency department, sued Baptist claiming that she was not compensated for missed meal breaks. While White had complained to her managers and the human resources department about missing a meal break or having them interrupted because of work, she admittedly had failed to record those missed meal breaks in an “exception log.” She never took advantage of Baptist’s procedure for correcting payroll records. Because of her general complaints, White argued that Baptist “should have known” about the off-the-clock work.
The Sixth Circuit stated that if an employer establishes a reasonable process for an employee to report uncompensated work time the employer will not be liable for non-payment if the employee fails to follow that process. While Baptist may have known that White had missed meal breaks, the court said that because White failed to follow either procedure for reporting the uncompensated work time, Baptist had no way of knowing that she was not being compensated for the missed meal breaks.
White is good news for employers. Although Sixth Circuit does not preside over courts in Florida, the case will support the argument that employees who disregard established policies and procedures for reporting uncompensated work time will have a hard time arguing that the employer “should have known” about the off-the-clock work. White reiterates the importance of employers having well-disseminated policies for reporting uncompensated work time.