The Eleventh Circuit (covering Florida, Georgia and Alabama) recently reversed a ruling by an Alabama district court dismissing a suit filed by 44 nursing center employees including CNAs, LPNS, and others alleging that they worked without compensation during their meal breaks for the past six years in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The employees provided an itemized list of the weeks for which they claimed overtime and specifically alleged that they “care[d] for patient needs” and “tend[ed] to patients” during their meal breaks. The employees further alleged that the nursing center automatically deducted 30 minutes for meal breaks from their pay whether or not they took a meal break and whether or not they were completely relieved of their job duties.
Finding that these allegations were sufficient to state a violation of the FLSA, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the nursing center’s argument that is impossible to know whether caring for patients and tending to their needs was actually compensable time under the FLSA. The Eleventh Circuit explained that “[c]ompensable work under the FLSA includes any activity that is a principal activity or integral and indispensable to the principal activities that an employee is employed to perform” and that it is reasonable to assume that tending to patients and caring for their needs is a “principal activity” of a nursing center employee, especially when the employee works as a nurse in some capacity. The Eleventh Circuit also explained that the employees did not have to include a detailed description of the acts they performed during their meal breaks in order to state an FLSA claim.
While bona fide meal periods (typically lasting at least 30 minutes) are not compensable, in order for a meal period to be bona fide, an employee must be “completely relieved from duty for the purpose of eating regular meals.” Otherwise, the meal period must be paid.
EEOC Sues Home Health Care Company for Sexual Harassment
Recently, during a 15-day period, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed 16 lawsuits against employers throughout the United States. In one recent lawsuit, the EEOC filed suit against a home health care company alleging that it allowed two female employees to be sexually harassed by a client’s son who allegedly touched the women’s breasts and buttocks, made derogatory remarks, exposed himself, and touched them with his genitals. The EEOC claims that the women complained to the company about the sexually offensive conduct, but the company failed to investigate it and continued assigning them to work at the client’s home. The EEOC also claims that the company retaliated against the women by cutting their hours, ultimately firing one of the women and forcing the other to quit by reassigning her to the same home. An EEOC official commenting on the case stated, “[t]he Commission has prioritized efforts to prevent workplace harassment. In the era of the #MeToo movement, we continue to recognize the bravery of women who come forward and share the abuse they have experienced …”
This case serves as an important reminder that an employer may be liable for the harassment of its employees by non-employees where the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take appropriate corrective action to stop it.
Obesity as an Impairment Under the ADA?
A decision by a Chicago federal district court finding that a bus driver’s obesity was not a physical impairment within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is currently pending appeal before the Seventh Circuit. After analyzing the ADA Amendments Act, the EEOC’s regulations and guidance interpreting the ADA, and relevant cases, the district court rejected the bus driver’s ADA claims reasoning that severe obesity by itself is not a protected physical impairment under the ADA unless it is caused by an underlying physiological disorder or condition. Recently, various obesity groups, such as The Obesity Action Coalition and The Obesity Society, filed an amicus brief on behalf of the bus driver. These groups contend, among other things, that obesity falls squarely within the ADA’s definition of impairment because it is a “disease” or physiological disorder or condition that impacts numerous body systems and the district’s court’s ruling is at odds with the current medical consensus regarding obesity.
This issue has not been decided in the Eleventh Circuit (which covers Florida). We will keep a close eye on the appeal before the Seventh Circuit and the push to recognize obesity as a “disease” entitled to the protection of the ADA.