United States: Nurse's Unpaid Overtime Claim Teaches Lessons

Last Updated: May 4 2016
Article by Janet A. Hendrick

A recent case filed by an Illinois nurse who claims that she is owed unpaid overtime by her former employer illustrates the importance of proper timekeeping procedures and accurate records. The court's decision in Roberts v. Advocate Health Care demonstrates the types of off-the-clock wage claims that employees may bring against you, and offers lessons on how records can support or undermine your defense of those claims. 

Nurse Alleges Forced Off-The-Clock Work

Nurse Sharon Roberts worked as a team lead in the cardiac catheterization lab of Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center from 2009 to 2013. Following her termination from employment, she sued the hospital for unpaid overtime, claiming that she was forced to perform eight to 12 hours of unpaid overtime each week during her employment.

The first category of off-the-clock work, according to Roberts' allegations, consisted of frequently being forced to work through her lunch break. She claimed, for example, that she often had to respond to messages received on her hospital-issued pager. She also alleged that her supervisor consistently convened impromptu meetings after she had clocked out for the day.

The second category of alleged off-the-clock work consisted of Roberts claiming that she received communications via email, text, and page from her supervisor outside regular business hours, and that she was forced to spend unpaid time reading and responding to these communications.

Key Question: What Did The Hospital Know?

To succeed on her claims, Roberts would have to prove not only that she performed overtime work for which she did not receive proper compensation, but that the hospital had actual or constructive knowledge of her overtime work. The court emphasized that while an employer may not "sit back and accept the benefits of the overtime without compensating for them," the law "stops short of requiring the employer to pay for work it did not know about, and had no reason to know about." 

In this case, the nurse relied on the nature and amount of her alleged unpaid overtime to argue that the hospital either knew or should have known about all of the off-the-clock work she claims to have performed.

Hospital's Timekeeping System Plays Crucial Role

In coming to a decision, the court spent considerable time discussing the hospital's timekeeping procedures. Although hospital employees were required to punch in before beginning their shift and punch out at the end of their work day, the judge noted that the hospital offered employees three methods by which they could correct inaccuracies in their punch times. 

First, employees could correct their punch times through the computerized timekeeping system the day after the inaccurate punch times. Second, employees could submit a payroll adjustment form. And third, employees could report uncompensated time to human resources, which would investigate and correct any pay discrepancy it discovered.

Although Roberts claimed that she never saw the hospital's pay policy, she testified that she nonetheless was aware of the actions she could have taken to ensure she was paid for all time worked. In fact, on multiple occasions, she submitted payroll adjustment forms to correct her time entries, including for missed lunch breaks. When asked why she had not attempted to correct her time entries that she now claimed were inaccurate, she testified that she was "just busy and forgot."

Ultimately, the court delivered a mixed bag of results to the employer. While it dismissed a portion of Roberts' claim, it also gave renewed life to another portion of her claim and kept hopes alive that the case might one day proceed to trial.

You Win Some...

With regard to the post-shift meetings and missed lunch breaks, the court was not convinced by Roberts' argument and evidence. The judge labeled Roberts' argument that her supervisor should have had knowledge about the alleged off-the-clock work as "speculative," pointing out that "the fact that something is theoretically possible is not enough" to allow Roberts to succeed.

The multiple mechanisms that Roberts had at her disposal to correct her time records were a compelling factor that led the court to side with the hospital. Another convincing factor: Roberts admitted that she never provided actual notice to her supervisor or any other supervisor about the alleged unpaid overtime.

...And You Lose Some

The court had a harder time, however, reaching a conclusion about Roberts' allegation that the hospital should have known about overtime hours spent responding to post-shift communications. This was due largely to the "mountain" of email, pager, and text records with which Roberts deluged the court to support her claim. 

The problem with these submissions, according to the court, was that there was no feasible way to match up the messages with Roberts' pay records to determine whether she was on-call or working a paid shift. Noting that the hospital did not lessen the court's burden of making sense of the records, the court did not dismiss this portion of the claim.

The judge advised the hospital to go back to the drawing board and prepare a chart or other usable summary of the records to help better explain its defense. The court said that once the issues related to the records were narrowed, it would reconsider the motion and determine whether the case would live or die.   

Lessons To Be Learned

The Roberts decision provides three valuable lessons for all employers who face wage and hour claims. First, the case highlights the value of a comprehensive timekeeping system that provides multiple methods for employees to correct inaccuracies.

Second, the decision is a reminder that an employee must do more than merely speculate that you "should have known" about alleged unpaid overtime – such a claim must be supported by evidence. And third, even the strongest defense to unpaid overtime claims will benefit from an organized presentation of evidence to make the court's (or jury's) job as easy as possible.  

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Janet A. Hendrick
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions