CSI HR: The Case of Faulty Breaks

Senior living HR compliance
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Liz Strikwerda

Content strategist and corporate blogger (2000+ posts). Her work has been featured on G2's Learning Hub, Human Resources Today, Better Buys and over 500 business websites. She plays bluegrass mandolin and enjoys sailing her catamaran and hiking in the red rock wilderness of southern Utah. Connect with me on LinkedIn

Senior Living HR Compliance

Something sinister is up in this case of senior living HR non-compliance.

Warning: The following account contains graphic descriptions of Human Resources crimes. Reader discretion is advised.

Crime Scene: Pleasant View Senior Living

An anonymous source tipped off authorities to a break problem at Pleasant View Senior Living, located in the beautiful Foxtrot community just outside of downtown Charlemagne, North Carolina. The resulting investigation led to three serious allegations of compliance violations with at least six victims.

The Pleasant View Senior facility provides independent senior living townhomes, assisted senior living, and memory care. The facility boasts ‘advanced senior care with southern hospitality.’

It takes a lot of dedicated workers to keep a large residential senior living business running 24/7/365. Employees working directly with patients include nurses, certified nursing assistants, orderlies, and activity directors. Support staff includes administrators, a maintenance team, cafeteria workers, and marketing specialists.

Allegation #1: Employees Were Not Paid For All Time Worked

Investigators from the US Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) found that Pleasant View had failed to compensate workers who opted to work through their breaks. Instead, Pleasant View automatically made deductions from employee timecards for scheduled lunch breaks. Unfortunately, this automatic process didn’t account for instances when employees worked during their break and that is a violation.

Neither the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) nor state employment law requires employers to provide breaks or meal periods in this case. However, many employers do provide breaks and meal periods. Short breaks from five to 20 minutes are typical in most industries.

The FLSA requires employers to pay workers for short break periods; however, an employer does not have to pay for meal periods of thirty minutes or more. There is an important condition for 30+ minute breaks, however. The employee must be free to use the meal time any way they want and not be required to perform work. This means that if a CNA helps a patient for two minutes between bites of a sandwich, the employee performed work during the break period. Therefore, the worker must be paid for the entire break, not just the two minutes spent working.

Allegation #2: Failure to Pay Overtime

A grisly HR crime is rarely isolated. One violation usually leads to another and this case is no exception. Because working meals were not added to the total weekly hours, some employees did not receive overtime wages they were due.

If an employee works more than 40 hours in a week, they must be paid the legal overtime wage for any time worked past the 40 hours. Pleasant View employees who worked during their lunch break (even if just to answer the phone) should have been paid for the whole break period and paid overtime if that meant that they worked more than 40 hours in a week. Otherwise, the employer has committed an FLSA overtime violation.

Allegation #3: Failure to Keep Accurate Payroll Records

In addition to the overtime violation, Pleasant View committed another bone-chilling HR crime: failure to keep accurate records. Employers are required to keep comprehensive records of employee hours and other payroll documentation. This includes employee timecards.

If an employee or former employee files a dispute, the employer’s payroll records will be examined by either a State or Federal WHD investigator. In this case, Pleasant View didn’t meet FLSA recordkeeping regulations.

Verdict: Pleasant View Senior Living Fined $18,963

HR violations can carry severe penalties. Pleasant View Senior Living was fined $18,963 in back pay and damages.

Continuing Care Industry Background

Residential care facilities operate with massive overhead costs. Facilities that provide care for low-functioning patients (such as those with Alzheimer’s or dementia) typically have the narrowest margins. This is true even though they can charge more for this type of care. Some industry insiders believe the line has been blurred between ‘assisted living’ and ‘acute care.’ Because of the narrow margins, CFOs do all they can to optimize labor costs. These account for 50% or more of total operating expenses.

Motive?

We don’t know if Pleasant View management understood the laws that apply to employee meals and rest periods. We don’t know if they intentionally shorted compensation to the employees who worked through their breaks. The recordkeeping lapses may be due to an overworked HR manager with too much to do and not enough time to do it. Perhaps they were using spreadsheets for scheduling and paper timecards. Manual, paper-based processes make recordkeeping even more difficult.

We do know that a small increase in labor costs could tip the balance in whether a senior living facility has a profit or loss for the year.

How Can Employers Protect Themselves From Horrific HR Crimes?

No CEO wants their business to become a crime scene. No manager wants to unwittingly commit a violation. And no hard-working employee wants to be a victim of a ghastly HR crime. Fortunately, there are software tools created for the express purpose of complying with wage and hour laws. Smart residential care facility owners use HR systems that are ahead of the curve. Software as a Service (SaaS) time and labor platforms transform employee timekeeping, scheduling and payroll.

WorkforceHub is the Best Defense

WorkforceHub is a cloud-based time and labor solution from Swipeclock. WorkforceHub automates mission critical HR processes including time collection, timecard management, meals/breaks tracking, shift planning and PTO tracking. Plus, it has features designed for the unique needs of the residential care industry. This includes the most advanced compliance tools available.

It all starts with accurate employee time and attendance. Employers must track employee time to the minute and keep accurate records. With WorkforceHub, employees punch in and out with a physical clock, online portal or mobile app. WorkforceHub creates digital timecards and tallies hours in real time as employees punch in and out. Employees or managers can access and update records from any mobile device. If an employer is challenged in a dispute, the HR manager can run a time and labor report in seconds from any pay period.

WorkforceHub is as intuitive and easy to use as your favorite smartphone app. It can be set up quickly and requires no special training or technical know-how.

Senior Living Employee Scheduling

Employee timekeeping and scheduling go hand in hand. WorkforceHub can handle the complex logistics of around-the-clock scheduling. Customizable employee profiles track the staff certifications necessary to operate a senior living facility. Alerts and notifications guide schedule creation.

In addition, WorkforceHub makes it easier to create schedules that limit or prevent overtime. Overtime alerts notify managers when an employee is approaching the end of straight-time hours. This prevents any nasty payroll surprises that send chills up your spine.

WorkforceHub also makes Payroll Based Journal reporting quick and easy.

WorkforceHub Handles Meals and Breaks

WorkforceHub meals/breaks compliance tools are key in this case. When you customize the software, you can designate paid or non-paid breaks. Managers can set alerts to notify employees when it is time to take a break. Early clock-in lockout helps employers comply with paid break obligations. For example, if an employee is authorized for a 30 minute paid break, but they try to clock back in after 15 minutes to help a patient, the software will notify the manager.

Residential care facilities can’t afford a large HR department. With the WorkforceHub solution, one administrator can handle dozens of employees. This is especially helpful if the HR manager wears multiple hats and provides patient care along with administrative tasks.

It’s Like Having a Full-Time Compliance Manager

Swipeclock understands how time-consuming FLSA compliance can be. There are also state and local laws governing overtime, family leave, and scheduling. Without software created for the express purpose of protecting your business, compliance can be a crap shoot.

Take a systematic approach to compliance. Set rules based on your industry, local laws, and pay structure. Then let sophisticated automation take over and help relieve the compliance burden.

Control Residential Care Employee Labor Costs

Careful compliance shouldn’t increase labor costs. WorkforceHub tracks employee hours to the minute and helps managers optimize shift planning. Controlled labor expenditures boost revenue while protecting against appalling HR crimes.

It’s the only way to have compliance peace of mind in a scary world.

Note: The preceding story is true. However, names, locations, and other identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.

Simplify HR management today.

Simplify HR management today.

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