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Healthcare Compliance: Staying on Top of Wage and Hour Laws

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Managing healthcare compliance is no small task for any healthcare providerIn addition to all the legal oversight specific to the healthcare industry, providers also need to comply with local, state, and federal wage and hour laws. Ensuring healthcare compliance with the complicated web of meal and break laws is particularly arduous in the chaotic, life-or-death pace and pressure of the field often results in workers missing scheduled meals and breaks.

One study of hospital staff nurses found that they are often working consecutive shifts without the proper meal or break time. Indeed, research has found that nurses miss breaks entirely in about ten percent of their shifts. Missing breaks is bad for nurses and bad for patients. It’s also bad for the hospitals employing them, making them vulnerable to costly wage and hour lawsuits for improperly providing breaks and improperly paying (or not paying at all) healthcare staff for breaks not taken.

Making up for lost breaks during shift

Emergencies happen. No healthcare worker is going to punch out for a meal break because the clock says it’s time when there’s an emergency happening. However, for the healthcare provider to remain in compliance with meal and break laws, it helps to know – in real time – if those breaks aren’t happening.

The only way to track meal and break adherence in real time is by requiring staff to clock in and out for breaks. Only an automated system can notify managers when

  • a scheduled break hasn’t occurred
  • someone has left late or returned early from a break. This is especially important as regards meal breaks since many states require meal breaks be uninterrupted time. The hospital or practice can’t give a nurse an extra 15 minutes later in the shift to make up for missing half her meal break. If the law requires a 30-minute meal break, it must be 30 uninterrupted minutes.

Such notifications help managers mitigate missed meal and break time during the contemporaneous shift. Using this information, managers can know whom to send to break, and for how long, when a shift quiets down. Being able to use this information during shift ensures that overworked staff gets their proper break time, which protects healthcare employers in two ways:

  • Providing proper break time per shift, and documenting actual break time through employee time clocks, minimizes the potential success of any wage and hour claim for not provided adequate break time.
  • If sufficient break time couldn’t be provided during the shift, the extra work time needs to be paid at a higher rate. Avoiding this situation helps healthcare organizations keep payroll manageable instead of paying unnecessary overtime.

Of course, if the meal or break time wasn’t in fact provided, having terminals and time and attendance system will ensure the worker was paid at the legally-mandated rate boost for working through a break.

The law doesn’t let employers keep their heads in the sand

Employers pleading ignorance to the fact that staff has been unable to take their legally-mandated meal time and breaks will not find a sympathetic hearing. In fact, many states will accept the employee’s description of the facts (i.e., missed meal and break time) if the employer doesn’t have complete time and attendance records.

Complete, accurate documentation is also important for employers that use automatic deductions for a scheduled meal and break time. Such employers need to show that they have worker-friendly processes allowing:

  • workers to provide notice when breaks weren’t taken so that the worker can be paid appropriately for the overtime
  • workers or their managers to override the deduction on the day the meal or break was missed

Having a paper-based process to handle these exceptions opens healthcare organizations up to all the risks of human error and circumvention that implementing a time and attendance system was meant to avoid.

Using a sophisticated time clock and communication software, like those offered by Accu-time Systems, gives employers capabilities to implement a real-time override process that’s fully documented.

One option is to configure the ATS time clock to require each worker to attest at the time clock that they took all required breaks during that shift when they punch out for the day. If they can’t attest to this, they have the opportunity right then and there to provide notice, giving the employer the opportunity to remediate in a timely fashion. That could mean any automatic deductions aren’t applied for that shift.

Another option is to prevent workers from clocking out late or in early from a break without getting a manager’s approval, collected right at the time clock. This override approach keeps control with managers.

The right time clocks have the flexibility to ensure healthcare compliance with hour wages laws

A healthcare organization that uses a time clock to collect meal and break punches in and out in real time is creating the most reliable, credible evidentiary record possible. However, since missed meals and breaks are a fact of the chaotic healthcare environments, these organizations also need a time clock that protects them by enforcing their notice and override processes. Only those types of terminals provide the fullest possible documentation needed to protect

against wage and hour lawsuits.

For more information on how time clocks can help you with time and attendance, download our eBook below on how to optimize your reporting.

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