PeaceHealth Workers Say System Skimped On Pay
Two former employees at PeaceHealth’s RiverBend hospital in Springfield are suing the hospital system in state court, alleging it illegally skimped on paying them, due to the timecard technology the hospital uses.
The former employees are seeking class-action status for the complaint and estimate the class is due $2.5 million.PeaceHealth’s timecard technology rounds to the nearest quarter hour, and PeaceHealth’s workplace practices pressure the majority of employees to punch in and out at times that favor PeaceHealth in the rounding, not the employee, the lawsuit alleges.
The complainants – Ashley DeWitt, who worked as an hourly, non-exempt employee until 2017, and Charlton Benelli, who worked as an hourly non-exempt employee until 2020 – filed the lawsuit earlier this month in Lane County Circuit Court.
It says that PeaceHealth violated several state laws that regulate pay and overtime.
PeaceHealth has not yet filed a response and declined to comment on the specific allegations.
“PeaceHealth’s time-keeping practices are in full accordance with Oregon state law, and we are committed to ensuring all our caregivers are fully compensated for their work,” PeaceHealth said.
Timecard rounding disputes have cropped up over the years in Oregon and around the nation. In 2014, Providence Health & Services in Oregon settled a class-action lawsuit filed by the Oregon Nurses Association in federal court that alleged the timecard check-in and check-out rounding system – similar to PeaceHealth’s – at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Southwest Portland worked primarily in favor of Providence. Under the settlement, Providence paid out about $2 million, according to the ONA’s lawyers.
Federal law generally allows timecard rounding, but not if it is skewed against the worker.
Under PeaceHealth’s policy, paid time is rounded in seven-minute increments, the lawsuit says. Employees can clock in up to seven minutes early for a shift and clock out seven minutes after the scheduled end of the shift, it says. For example, for an employee who clocks in at 11:53 for a shift scheduled to begin at 12:00, the timekeeping system would report the employee’s start time as 12:00 and pay accordingly, “denying the employee pay for the first seven minutes the employee is clocked in,” the lawsuit says.
“Were that same employee then to clock out at 6:07, the time keeping system would report the employee’s end time as 6:00 – denying the employee pay (again) for the last seven minutes that she was on the clock,” the complaint alleges.
The system can work in favor of the employee, if the employee were to clock in up to seven minutes after their scheduled start time, and clock out up to seven minutes before the scheduled end of their shift, the lawsuit says.
But the system skews in favor of PeaceHealth and against workers, the lawsuit alleges.
“That is because as a matter of institutional reality, hourly employees often punch in between one and seven minutes early for work and often punch out between one and seven minutes after their shifts are scheduled to end, when the rounding policy favors PeaceHealth. As a result, a substantial majority of employees are clocked into the timekeeping system for more time than they are paid under the rounding policy,” the lawsuit says.
“PeaceHealth, through attendance, tardy, timekeeping and budgetary policies and practices, discourages employees from clocking in more than seven minutes early for their shift; clocking in between one and seven minutes late for their shift; and clocking out more than seven minutes late for their shift,” the lawsuit said.
PeaceHealth’s timecard punch system has a record of the actual times worked, the lawsuit adds.
The lawsuit estimates there are 5,000 members in the requested class, which covers all hourly, non-exempt PeaceHealth employees who worked in Oregon anytime between April 2015 and the present. PeaceHealth operates four hospitals in Oregon, all in Lane County. The system is headquartered in Vancouver, Washington.
Non-exempt workers are hourly workers who are covered by federal overtime law, as opposed to exempt, or salaried workers, who are not.
The lawsuit says that Oregon law requires employers to pay for “all hours worked.”
In addition to asking for wages lost due to the rounding, the lawsuit also seeks penalty wages equal to 30 days of pay for failing to pay former employees their full due upon their departure, and 30 days of penalty wages for employees who were not paid the overtime they were owed.
The legal issues surrounding timecard rounding disputes are full of nuances.
Issues raised in other rounding lawsuits include whether the worker was required to clock in early or clock out late, or did so voluntarily, and whether they engaged in work tasks during the time before and after their formal, scheduled shift. Other issues include whether the workers alleged violations of state or federal law – which differ – and whether the rounding was being used for, for example, lunch breaks, which often are covered by their own specific laws. The California Supreme Court earlier this year ruled that rounding could not be used for lunch breaks, and that employers had to provide full, 30-minute lunch breaks.
You can reach Christian Wihtol at [email protected].