March 12, 2010

Training to ensure meal break policy followed properly

Any Vanderbilt staff member who works six hours or more in a shift should have an uninterrupted 30-minute meal break, and if work is performed during this time, the staff member should be paid for the entire meal break.

This longstanding University policy reflects wage payment laws dating back to the 1930s.

In every manner of industry the time clock or time sheet is essential for protecting employees and ensuring full payment for hours worked. A recent uptick in complaints and lawsuits across the nation have highlighted gaps in workplace education concerning the use of time clocks in health care settings.

The issue largely concerns proper use of automatic meal break deduction features on time clocks (which help avoid the need to “clock out” for every meal break). Meal breaks in health care settings may be subject to interruptions as patient care issues arise.

Responding to this issue, Vanderbilt is instituting measures to further educate everyone regarding meal breaks for hourly paid staff.

“Clocking off a factory floor for a meal break is one thing, but health care organizations are learning that meal breaks in patient care settings may be less straightforward,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

“So, to ensure full support of our employees, we're redoubling efforts, starting with new training for both staff and managers on the use of the time clock system.”

“Our staff here at the Medical Center are some of the hardest working, most dedicated people anywhere, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that everyone who works with us is paid in full for his or her service,” Balser said.

A letter outlining Vanderbilt's proactive stance, from C. Wright Pinson, M.D., MBA, deputy vice Chancellor for Health Affairs, was delivered last week to some 7,600 Medical Center employees who use the time clock system, and a related letter to staff who use time sheets will follow later in the month.

Training will be conducted first for employees and their managers who use the time clock, and training will follow for those who use time sheets. An effort is also under way to identify any staff members who may have performed work during their meal breaks, so that they may be paid for that time.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should contact their manager, or alternatively the office of the deputy vice chancellor for Health Affairs.