Getting Docked for Lunch Breaks You Don’t Get to Take – Just One More Stressor for Registered Nurses

I was recently contacted regarding a federal lawsuit alleging that Houston MethodistSM deducted 30 minutes each shift for breaks whether the nurses took them in whole, in part or not at all. There are more than 20 similar lawsuits throughout the U.S.

I informally polled nurses nationwide to find out just how widespread this legal issue really is. RNs overwhelmingly responded that this has been happening for decades. In the National Nurses’ Stress Survey many RNs commented about not getting breaks and lunch at their hospital RN jobs. But I was shocked to learn from the informal poll that registered nurses everywhere are getting their pay docked 30 minutes each shift for lunch breaks they don’t get to take.

Even worse, RNs risk getting written up if they don’t take a lunch break and if they do take a break, there is no coverage and their patients are at risk. While there is a mechanism to report not being able to take lunch, the word on the street from RNs is that such reporting is viewed as complaining. Administration calls it a “time management” issue. Some nurses simply clock out for thirty minutes, keep working and then clock back in. Many nurses view no lunch in a 12-hour shift as part of the job to avoid discipline from their RN supervisors.

It’s time for this draconian practice to stop. Nurses should not have to sacrifice their own health and well-being for hospital profits. I like to say We Are Nurses and We Can Do Anything! ® but we shouldn’t have to kill ourselves to do it. That’s just one more reason why legal nurse consulting is a popular career alternative for nurses looking to leave punishing 12-hour shifts and their hospital RN jobs behind them.

I’m Just Sayin’

P.S. Comment and share whether you believe no breaks (bathroom or otherwise) and no lunch is draconian or should be accepted as part of every RN’s job.

12 thoughts on “Getting Docked for Lunch Breaks You Don’t Get to Take – Just One More Stressor for Registered Nurses

  1. The nursing home I worked at in Pennsylvania did that all the time . They also wanted you to finish your work but clock out first to save money.

  2. As an RN of 35 years, and an LPN five years prior, I know this happens; has happened all across the country, and for decades, and it IS draconian. Hospitals just paint the nurses into a corner regarding breaks, under-staffing and more. If the nurses disagree, the facilities retaliate on annual evaluations, citing hazy items such as, “failure to support the goals and aims of the facility.” I actually framed one of mine and hung it in my office at the hospital. It made the brass uncomfortable to stop by, because that frame was always the elephant in the living room. That in turn, made me smile, as I hope it has other nurses.

  3. This I not a new concept! I have been a nurse for over 23 years and a few of us at a hospital I worked at contracted UTIs (which many of us had not experienced in a very long time) because we did not even have time to go to the restroom. There are no lunch breaks because of coverage and other nurses not wanting to take the responsibility because everyone was overworked with individual client loads.

  4. My last ER job at a for-profit hospital does the same. 12-hr shifts, docked for the breaks we couldn’t take. Again, they accused us of time-management problems, but there wasn’t enough staff to cover our patients. The rare times we stepped out, the doctors were howling because no one nurse could adequately care for 12-16 patients. Critical pathways such as antibiotics for pneumonia or heparin drips for DVT can’t possibly be met when you’re pedaling as fast as you can, but the bike is a runaway. The nurses were unionized at my previous hospital. Generally, I’m not particularly fond of unions, but you can be sure we had our breaks and the patients were safe!

  5. I am shocked to find this out as well. I never thought to look at my pay stub for such a draconian practice.

  6. Vickie: Yes, this practice of either docking nurses for lunch breaks or not paying them at all for their breaks because it is included in required clocking in 15 minutes early for report; has been going on for at least 35 years. This not only happens in the hospitals but nursing homes as well. This practice is wrong but the system has got the nurses in a crunch because of the short staffing (major white elephant in the room). When the nurses are short staffed and have a patient load of 6 to 8 patients, it is almost impossible to take a bathroom break much less eat. The nurses that belong to a union could probably make a difference, but the effort would probably hurt their families financially. Our nurses at one time wanted to join the union but we were told if we did join, it would be immediate termination. Because management would state it is a time management issue; investigations of short staffing claims would be nullified due to over staffing when investigators were rumored to arrive. Maybe if our sister nurses that go to Washington passed a bill for mandatory lunch breaks and adequate staffing, the situation would change for the better.

  7. This has been a common practice for many years. I watched many of my peers clock out at the end of a shift then return to finish their charting. I pointed out to them that if something – anything – were to happen to them then they were not covered by workers’ comp because they were off the clock. Or if there was an emergency on the unit, they would have to totally ignore it because they were off the clock. I was told many times about my poor time management skills. On more than one occasion I called my supe to come cover our unit so we could each have 10 minutes to wolf down our food and go pee. It was usually denied.
    Once I had to call someone to bring me a set of scrubs in the days when were wore actual uniforms because I peed myself at a pt’s bedside. They had the nerve to ask me to not leave the hospital wearing them or they would report them as stolen. And, no, I didn’t change back into my wet clothing.

  8. Healthcare facilities don’t have to get it. Nurses are willing to take the abuse and be happy to have a job that pays for the gas it takes to get to work. At one facility where I worked ICU and stepdown, the only other warm bodies to enter the area were respiratory therapists. We would ask them to watch our patients for two minutes so that we could use the bathroom. For a lunch break, one nurse had to cover 6 ICU patients. There was no tech or help available. One supervisor replied that the nurses would be spoiled if allowed to have coverage for lunch. Needless to say, if we wanted to eat during the workday, we had to sneak something from pocket to mouth. Not good infection control, but worth the risk. Now I don’t punch in and out and deal with the retribution. It’s okay until I no longer need my license. Everything is temporary…

  9. When are the facilities going to get it? I think nurses have to stand up for themselves and start believing we and you are worth it. Hunger depletes the mind, no breaks and being docked is not the answer. The ANA has been lobbying for it seems millions of years relating to poor staff ratios for RNs. I do not know what it is going to take to get it through administrators hearts and heads. The administrators have some of the most loyal and hardworking employees who care for their patients that are paying their salaries.

  10. The sad thing is in the business financial world, nurses are considered a “cost center.” MDs are not because some of them are investing in the healthcare business or partners. The only way to improve nursing work conditions is to change from nursing as a cost center to a lateral business approach. Maybe nurses need to look at becoming business partners instead of slave labor?
    Maybe we could all pitch in and own our own hospital, just a thought.

  11. In the ER where I work, no breaks has become a culture that is hard to break. There are times when there is no way of taking a break. The few times that breaks are taken, we prefer the pay. The manager tries to show how productivity is affected by not taking lunch breaks and even that has not helped. Staff snack and eat at their work station. “Chew, chew, swallow” is a common saying. All while standing.

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