Sacred Heart nurses win state court battle involving overtime pay.
Reversing the a state Court of Appeals panel, the Washington Supreme Court entered a unanimous ruling today that 1,200 nurses at Spokane’s Sacred Heart hospital are entitled to additional overtime pay.
The ruling stems from a disagreement between the hospital and the nurses association about how to count break time that the nurses sometimes are asked to forego because of work demands at the hospital.
State rules require the nurses receive at least ten minutes break time for each four hours they work. Sacred Heart’s practice is to grant fifteen minutes for the breaks, and if breaks are missed to extend the nurses’ work day an additional fifteen minutes with both time blocks compensated at the regular hourly rate.
The Washington State Nurses Association argued that the legally required ten minutes of the missed breaks should be counted as overtime, thus entitling the nurses to additional pay.
Spokane Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor not only agreed with the nurses, but also ruled that the hospital was guilty of “willfully” withholding the overtime pay, and thus awarded double damages. But the Court of Appeals disagreed that overtime pay was applicable, and dismissed the case.
Today the Supreme Court settled the issue in favor of the nurses.
Although the nurses worked during rest periods, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote for the court, they “were still entitled to compensation for 10 minutes of ‘hours worked’ for each missed break. The additional labor Sacred Heart received when the nurses worked through their breaks was the equivalent of labor Sacred Heart otherwise would have secured by requiring nurses to work overtime only at the end of their shifts. By putting nurses in a situation where they could not take their breaks, in violation of WAC 296-126-092(4), Sacred Heart effectively “authorized or required” nurses “to be on duty on the employer’s premises” to perform work equivalent to an overtime shift after the end of their normal workday. Even though the nurses did not physically remain past the time they would normally go home, Sacred Heart may not avoid its obligation to provide 10 minutes of ‘hours worked’ for rest or to treat time spent working as ‘hours worked.’”
The result is a judgment of $52,361 in compensation, plus $200,000 in attorneys’ fees and another $22,500 in expenses.
The Supreme Court did disagree with Judge O’Connor on the award of double damages, however, finding that “a bona fide dispute existed between Sacred Heart and WSNA regarding whether straight pay or overtime pay was the appropriate method of compensation for the missed rest periods.”