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Missing a Mandatory Rest Period Could Result in Significant Liability to Employers

December 3, 2012


It is not uncommon for an employee to sometimes miss a scheduled 10 minute rest break due to some unexpected event during the work day.  However, such practices could result in significant liability to employers.

The Washington Supreme Court concluded that when a full-time employee misses a mandatory rest period, the employee is entitled to overtime pay for the additional amount of work performed during those periods.  In Washington State Nurses Association v. Sacred Heart Medical Center, the Court found that approximately 1,200 registered nurses in Spokane, Washington were entitled to overtime compensation for the times when the nurses worked through their rest periods.  This resulted in a total judgment of $274,906.83 against the employer.

The court reasoned that, by working through a paid rest break, the nurses had—in effect—extended their workdays by that amount and the missed rest time constituted additional hours of work.  For nurses who worked 40 hours a week, the missed rest period constituted overtime work that should have been paid at one and a half times the employee's hourly rate. 

The Washington Supreme Court's ruling is a cautionary tale to all employers – particularly those in the health care industry.  The Washington Supreme Court's decision strongly disfavors allowing employees to miss mandatory rest and meal breaks.  Employers should make all efforts to ensure that all employees receive their full entitled breaks – rest and meal breaks.  Missing a mandatory break should be the exception and not the rule.  When employees miss mandatory rest breaks, employers must pay the employee for the additional time worked plus the missed break.  To the extent these additional minutes extend an employee's workweek beyond 40 hours, the overtime provisions of the Washington Minimum Wage Act are triggered and such time must be paid at one and a half times the employee's regular rate of pay.  To the extent an employee does miss a mandatory break, seek legal counsel to determine the employee's rate of pay as that may vary.

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