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Standing up for "meal break" issue

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by flymomrn flymomrn (New Member) New Member

1,117 Profile Views; 14 Posts

Recently, I was called in to the DON's office and asked if I ever work out at the gym on my lunch break. I said that I hadn't, but have thought about doing it as I need to lose a few pounds and our company has been encouraging us to get healthier. I was then informed that one of the nurses had been doing so and that the floor nurses are not allowed to work out on our meal break or be off the unit for more than a few minutes during our shift. I seldom leave the unit except to go to the vending machine, and always have the cordless phone and pager with me at all times. I work at a small nursing home where there is only one floor nurse working and after 4pm and on weekends, there is only one nurse in the building. We all get 30 minutes deducted from our pay, even though we all know that we can not leave the building and need to be available to assist residents at all times, and we have all accepted that for years without complaint. On the rare occations that one of us fills out a "no lunch" form, we are paid for that time, but have to justify why we couldn't get a break.

In light of the DON/facility making an issue of what we can and can not do while on our "lunch break", we have all been discussing that it is not fair or legal for us to not be paid for our "lunch break" if we are not free of responsibility for the residents. So, I have written up a demand letter to HR stating that per Fair Labor Standards Act and State Labor Regulations, that unless we are completely free of all responsiblities and able to take our 30 minute break where and how we please, then we must be paid for that time. If we contact the state, we would be entitled to up to 2 years of back pay plus interest for those unpaid meal breaks, but we are just demanding that we be paid for our breaks from now on and liquidated damages for back pay. I know it seems crazy to fight for 30 minutes of pay, but it really adds up. That can be over $5,000.00 a year for a full time nurse. I don't know about you, but I could use that money. The facility made it an issue and now we are going to make sure that they pay us for our breaks as required by law. I know that there may be (ok, will surely be) some trouble for standing up for our rights, but the facility can not legally terminate an employee (even in an at-will state) for demanding to be paid for hours worked of for filing a complaint with the state.

That being said, I am writing the demand on behalf of all of the nurses and signing it "The Floor Nurses" as I do not want to be the only one putting my name to the demand letter. I would love it if all of us would sign the demand, but I think that just writing it in behalf of all of us will work. I am going to put a copy of the demand letter in all of the nurses' boxes (including mine) so they know what is going on. I attached the relevant supporting documentation for everyone and gave a deadline of June 16th for them to make the change and pay the liquid damages amount requested.

Everyone cross your fingers that everything goes well for us.

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westieluv has 26 years experience and specializes in Med/Surg, Tele, Dialysis, Hospice.

948 Posts; 19,647 Profile Views

Good luck to you, that facility is clearly in the wrong. I work in a LTC facility (but just for one more week, thank God!) where I never, ever get a dinner break on the evening shift that I work. If I tried to leave the floor for even 30 minutes, it would set me back terribly with the number of patients that I am responsible for. It's a sad situation when employers don't care if their employees get a "real" break, as in, free of responsibility, free of even having to THINK about the job if they don't want to, or not.

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203 Posts; 6,816 Profile Views

Flymomrn, well of course You are right, I admire what you are doing, and look forward to hearing how it plays out. Of course if you were in Florida they would fire your a*#.

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14 Posts; 1,117 Profile Views

I am likely to be fired soon here. My job has been firing people right and left since the new administrator started. I know that I am putting my job on the line by standing up for our rights, but I don't care any more. I am tired of us nurses being taken advantage of and even getting in trouble for working out on our meal breaks, even when the nurse had the phone and pager in her pocket and was only 20 feet off the unit. The break room where we are supposed to eat is further away than the gym. We have put up with letting them deduct time from our check when we are not really free of duties and I for one am not going to put up with it any more. I am going to start filing out "no lunch forms" every time that I work and am the only nurse in the building or not fully relieved of duties. We all have to start standing up for ourselves on these little things. It really does add up to a lot of money that we are being cheated out of over the course of a year.

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811 Posts; 12,934 Profile Views

Flymomrn- Wow! I support you 110% That is a tough deal. Your situation reminds me of why I am a member of a nurses' union. Once upon a time I worked at a nonunionized hospital, I did not get a lunch break...I was expected to eat snatches of food between my work, because, "We all do this to get out on time." We also used to work for free at that job by clocking out at shifts end and finish the charting after clocking out. Common practice at a lot of places, I am sure. Yeah, lots of money saved on that job (for management). After awhile you become aware that this is unethical, and you get tired of giving hours and hours of free labor with no gratitude! But because the employee/workplace culture permits it, you go along with it. It's that whole "group think" mentality...you are afraid to rock the boat. I understand. Nobody wants to jeopardize their jobs, either. I left that job and luckily found a better one where the nurses were unionized. It's still hard work, but there are rules and regulations now to protect basic workers' rights. Right around the time I left that job was when we nurses marched for lower nurse patient ratios in our home state, and now it is law. Used to be I had 6-10 patients on med surg, but now I max out at 5.

That's exactly why unions are so awesome...nurses unite and support one another. I now work at a job where we are unionized, and these sorts of pesky details like meal breaks are ironed out in our contracts. So, I tell you that now almost 99% of the time I do get a meal break at my current job. It is still very busy, but I tell my coworkers when I am on break I do not answer my phone. They cover for me. I help cover their call lights when they are on the 30 min. break. And I do not clock out and chart on my free time anymore. There is still intimidation from management, just like you describe, but we have a contract and each other to help support a safe and reasonable work environment. I can't advise you how to proceed in your delicate situation (not sure i would have the guts to do what you are doing). But I wanted to give you a high five for your assertiveness and bravery. Are there any unions where you live? Ever think about organizing? Some of the big nursing unions will lend a hand if there is interest. Just a thought. Good luck in your endeavors! Brave soul! Below is a link that may be helpful.:up:

http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/

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14 Posts; 1,117 Profile Views

Thanks Kona2. Not likely to get a union where I work. I have been involved with a couple of nurse lobby events and have connections with the NNU + SEIU + ANA. My husband works for a union and I have been a member of HERE union years ago as a waitress. I have not been as much of an advocate for nursing issues lately, but I am motivated again. Luckily, my husband is very supportive of my standing up for my rights.

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811 Posts; 12,934 Profile Views

P.S. -I also wanted to add that if there isn't enough staff to cover a nurses' meal break, then they should hire a "break relief RN" or administrator RN would be called to cover. They are breaking the law. I am sure you are already researching all this! Time to re-read Upton Sinclair's book, The Jungle. LOL.

http://www.dol.gov/whd/

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811 Posts; 12,934 Profile Views

I guess I posted at the same time as you flymomrn. Just wanted to applaud you! It's people like you that help bring about fair labor practices. Maybe no union will form at your facility now, but who knows what is sparked by standing up against unfair practices? We nurses are taught to be patient advocates. But we also need to take care of ourselves, too. Good luck!! I will be watching for your updates.

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14 Posts; 1,117 Profile Views

Thanks Kona2. In the state of Maryland, they do not need to give us a meal break, but they are to pay us for all time that is worked and can not deduct a 30 minute meal break if we are not fully relieved of all duties. I have no problem with not being relieved by another nurse so that I can have a bona fide meal break, as it is a small nursing home and it would be hard for them to have another nurse to come in at 2am to give me a break. I just want to be paid for my time since they have made an issue of what we do during our meal break. They can't have it both ways...they can't deduct the 30 minutes of pay and then dictate what we can and can't do on our break. We have all allowed it, but I am encouraging all of the nurses to start filling out "no lunch forms" for every shift. Unfortunately, it seems that the other nurses are not going to back me in any way and I am already getting in trouble. Nothing has been said about the letter and break deal, but a minor error is being made into a bigger problem and it is clear that they are going to start nit-picking everything I do until they can get rid of me for a reason other than the break issue.

I do have a copy of my recent evaluation which was glowing, and I have had no write-ups or warning prior to now. This is one reason it is important to keep evaluations and all communications from work. I am a bit anal about keeping notes and documenting everything that I do.

:nurse:

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14 Posts; 1,117 Profile Views

So, there is a meeting today about the annonymous letter about the meal break issue. The facility insists they are in the right and that they did not give permission for the letter to be placed in the inter-office mailboxes and that is a violation of policy as stated in the employee handbook. So, I will go to the meeting and hope that I can say enough to support our rights without being branded the trouble maker and getting fired. Should be fun. :spbox:

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208 Posts; 4,999 Profile Views

I take my meal break when I am at work, I just say " I am going to dinner" and leave. I refuse to carry a pager..it's unpaid time. They can pay me on call for half an hour if they want me to carry the pager. Some girls still carry their pager but some dont. Where I work there is no excuse for not getting a break now but when i started it was the nor to go without. However, a couple of us took stand and just put our foot down and funnily enough everyone followed suit! It's a rare day now where someone doesn't get a break.

In my second job we also have 30 minutes for lunch..everyone takes longer, goes to the shops and does other things and no one bats an eyelid. It's medical job but not patient hands on. If you are running late for work no one really cares and no one gets their heads bitten off for errors unlike nursing.

It's actually been an eye opener seing how two different deparertments in the same hospital work. Yes, there is one rule for nurses and one for everyone else.

Good luck with your meeting.

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63 Posts; 2,138 Profile Views

Wish you the best!!

As far as the forms for paid lunch make sure to keep a copy and of ANYTHING written that has to be turned in. Never know when something you turned in is gonna hit the file that the janitors clean everyday.

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