Valley Presbyterian Hospital of Van Nuys, California settled an employment class action for $1.9 million brought on behalf of nurse and non-nurse employees of Valley Presbyterian Hospital who were improperly denied meal and rest breaks due to the hospital’s routine practice of under-staffing nurses.
The California State Department of Health Services (“DHS”) to establish minimum specific and numerical licensed nurse-to-patient ratios for all general acute care hospitals. As a result of this law, hospitals are required to maintain particular nurse-to-patient ratios at all times.
Nurses at Valley Presbyterian Hospital typically worked in 12 hour shifts. The California Labor Code, inter alia, provides that an employer may not employ an employee for a work period of more than five hours per day without providing the employee with a meal period of not less than 30 minutes. In order to accommodate timely meal breaks, the hospital had to be staffed with a sufficient number of break nurses to relieve nurses within five hours of the start of their shift, and still have enough nurses to maintain the state mandated nurse-to-patient ratios.
Valley Presbyterian Hospital routinely failed to employ enough break nurses to facilitate timely meal and rest breaks for their nurse employees. As a result, nurses often worked their shifts without taking meal or rest breaks. Knowing that they would have to compensate nurses for missed meals and rest breaks, Valley Presbyterian Hospital exacerbated the wrong doing by forcing nurses to clock out prior to the end of the fifth hour of work, despite knowing they could not take a timely meal break due to the DHS nurse-to-patient ratio requirements.
Valley Presbyterian Hospital’s actions not only violate the labor code but fundamentally undermine the purpose and intent of law to protect nurses and ensure the highest level of patient care.