Stephanie Ostrowski Nov. 5, 2012, 3:26pm

SPOKANE, Wash. (Legal Newsline) - With the support of the Washington State Nurses Association, about 1,200 registered nurses employed by Sacred Heart Medical Center were awarded overtime pay as decided by the Washington Supreme Court.

Filed Oct. 25, the court opinion written by Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen addressed the nurse's collective bargaining agreement to provide a paid 15-minute rest period after every four hours of work. When a rest period was missed, Sacred Heart provided the nurses with a 30-minute break to compensate.

The nurses claimed they were entitled to overtime pay for 10 of the 15-minute rest periods they missed, according to the Washington industrial welfare regulation requiring a 10-minute rest period for every four hours worked.

The nurses contend they were underpaid the equivalent of five minutes of straight time for each break missed.

The decision hinged around how "hours worked" are calculated and whether the 15 minutes the nurses spent working through their break should be added or substituted for the 15 minutes they would have spent at rest.

The court held missing the break period and the additional labor the nurses provided constituted as hours worked. Even though Sacred Heart did not require the nurses to work longer than their workday to make up their rest periods, nurses are entitled to overtime compensation because they provided additional labor.

Since approximately June 2006, nurses started completed a "Missed Break Request" form that timekeepers used to make payroll adjustments of straight time, not overtime. As a result, when a nurse worked through one 15 minute break during an eight hour shift, they would receive 8.25 hours of regular pay.

The trial court granted summary judgment for WSNA, concluding that Sacred Heart owed WSNA $52,361.41 in compensation and prejudgment interest, $52,361.41 in double damages for a willful violation, $200,000 in attorney fees, and $22,545.42 in expenses.

The Court of Appeals had reversed the trial court and dismissed the lawsuit.

The Supreme Court found and concluded that working through a break effectively extends the workday by 10 minutes which is in violation of an Industrial Welfare Act.

According to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries Administrative Policy, "employees may not waive their right to a rest period." Sacred Heart recognizes that rest periods constitute "hours worked" since it credits nurses who take all rest breaks allowed by law with eight "hours worked."

Even though nurses did not remain past their eight hour work day, Sacred Heart may not avoid its obligation to provide 10 minutes of hours worked for either rest or time labor was provided.

The Supreme Court reinstated the trial court's order awarding damages, attorney fees, and costs to WSNA. The award of double damages was reversed because the record did not provide substantial evidence to support a finding that Sacred Heart willfully deprived nurses of wages.

More News