Unfortunately, this is the case in many rural hospitals where you may be the only RN or the only RN trained for ER. Many employers force you to clock out for breaks, which may be in direct opposition to the "Patient Abandoment" position statements/statutes for state nursing practice. Many state labor department/wage and hour divisions don't offer a formal position other than "Employers do not have to allow for meal breaks" There is the "you must be completely relieved" portion. Taken directly from the DOL website:
Bona-fide meal periods (typically 30 minutes or more) are not work time, and an employer does not have to pay for them. However, the employees must be completely relieved from duty. When choosing to automatically deduct 30-minutes per shift, the employer must ensure that the employees are receiving the full meal break. See Regulations 29 CFR 785.19.
EX: A skilled nursing facility automatically deducts one-half hour for meal breaks each shift. Upon hiring, the employer notifies employees of the policy and of their responsibility to take a meal break. Does this practice comply with the FLSA? Yes, but the employer is still responsible for ensuring that the employees take the 30-minute meal break without interruption.
EX: An hourly paid registered nurse works at a nursing home which allows a 30-minute meal break. Residents frequently interrupt her meal break with requests for assistance. Must she be paid for these frequently interrupted meal breaks? Yes, if employees’ meals are interrupted to the extent that meal period is predominately for the benefit of the employer, the employees should be paid for the full 30-minutes.
Title 29: Labor
PART 785—HOURS WORKED
Subpart C—Application of Principles
Rest periods of short duration, running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes, are common in industry. They promote the efficiency of the employee and are customarily paid for as working time. They must be counted as hours worked. Compensable time of rest periods may not be offset against other working time such as compensable waiting time or on-call time. (Mitchell
235 F. 2d 621, 13 W.H. Cases 3 (C.A. 10, 1956); Ballard
v. Consolidated Steel Corp., Ltd.,
61 F. Supp. 996 (S.D. Cal. 1945))
As labor unions for nurses are not interested in smaller facilities/rural areas, there is little to be done unless nurses take on this challenge themselves. Many don't for fear of reprisal, job loss etc.
I would suggest contacting your State DOL and your State Board of Nursing.
Personally, I believe this has gone on for far too long in the nursing profession. Administration does not value nursing. We consistantly cover all other departments after hours and weekends, but where is the first place that administration typically cuts? Nursing of course, because we are generally the largest department.