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October 29, 2012
Washington Supreme Court holds that missed breaks trigger overtime pay
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In a recent decision, the Washington Supreme Court set forth rules for compensating employees who miss the 10-minute breaks required by Washington regulation. 

In Washington State Nurses Association v. Sacred Heart Medical Center, when employees missed their 10-minute breaks, the employer paid employees for the 8-hour work day and for each missed 10-minute break.  The employer paid the extra time at a straight rate of pay.  The employees sued, arguing that they were entitled to overtime pay for the missed 10-minute breaks.  The employer argued that the Minimum Wage Act requires overtime only for those hours the employee spends on the premises and, because the employees went home after their 8-hour shift, it had to pay only straight time for the breaks. 

The Court held that the period for missed breaks must be added on to the end of a workday and count as “hours worked” within the meaning of the Minimum Wage Act regardless of whether the employees stayed at work beyond the 8 hours of his or her shift.  By permitting employees to miss their break, the Court reasoned, the employer effectively required the employees to be on duty equivalent to an overtime shift at the end of their normal workday.  Thus, the employees were entitled to overtime for each 10-minute missed break.

Accordingly, employers need to keep a record of all 10-minute breaks missed by employees, and pay an additional 10-minutes worth of compensation for each break missed.  If the additional missed break time would cause the employee to work more than 40 hours each week, employers must pay overtime for all time that exceeds 40 hours in a work week.  Alternatively, employers can send employees home early before the time they work, including the missed break time, exceeds 40 hours.  Employers must still pay employees for the missed breaks, but under this alternative system, they may be able to avoid paying overtime if the employee’s total hours remain under 40 hours in a work week.

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