The Washington Supreme Court has just issued its unanimous decision in the Washington State Nurses Association case.  The court concluded that when a full-time employee (working 40 hours a week) works through a paid rest break, the employee is entitled to overtime pay on top of his or her regular pay.  The court reasoned that, by working through a paid rest break, the employee has in effect extended his or her workday by that amount and the missed rest time constituted additional hours of work.  For employees scheduled to work 40 hours a week, the result is that the missed rest time constituted overtime work that had to be paid at 1.5 times the employee's hourly rate.

Underlying Facts

Sacred Heart Medical Center, in Spokane, has a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Washington State Nurses Association that covers certain nursing personnel.  The CBA provides that the employees are entitled to a 15-minute paid rest break for every four hours worked.  When employees had to work through a rest break, Sacred Heart paid them an additional 15 minutes of straight time pay.  So, for an eight-hour work shift, if an employee worked through a rest break, Sacred Heart paid 8.25 hours of straight time pay.

The union objected, arguing that 10 minutes of the missed break should be paid at overtime rates (presumably because only 10-minute breaks are legally required by Washington law).  The trial court agreed, but the court of appeals sided with Sacred Heart.  The Supreme Court agreed with the union and the trial court and reinstated the trial court's decision.

Takeaway for Employers

Legal claims for missed meal and/or rest breaks are hot topics these days.  Employers should reexamine their scheduling and pay practices to be sure that employees are receiving legally required meal and rest breaks and that when employees do not receive a break, they are paid properly for the missed time.

© 2012 Perkins Coie LLP