An assisted living facility in Coalmont, Tenn., was ordered to pay more than $151,000 in back wages to 15 employees because it failed to properly pay the workers while they were sleeping on the job, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday.
Exceptional Enterprises Inc. violated minimum wage and overtime provisions by "improperly deducting time for sleep from employees' hours, resulting in minimum wage violations for the sleep time that was not compensated" and for not paying time and a half for hours worked beyond 40 hours a week, Labor Department spokesman Michael D'Aquino said.
In a news release, D'Aquino said workers whose shifts are less than 24 hours are considered to be working even if they are allowed to sleep or do personal activities when not busy. Employees required to be on duty for more than 24 hours may agree to exempt sleep periods from work time, but the Exceptional Enterprises Inc. workers fell into the first category, the release stated.
William Lingle, executive director of Exceptional Enterprises Inc., said the violations were uncovered after a complaint led to an audit.
He said in an email Thursday that the company didn't know that the sleep-time pay practices violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.
"This sleep time pay calculation resulted in the incorrect overtime pay for only those employees who were sleeping during a portion of their overnight shift and no other violations were noted," Lingle said.
The company worked with the Labor Department to calculate the back pay it owed to the workers, he said.
Astor Bruhier, district director for the Wage and Hour Division in Jackson, Miss., said the government agency "wants to ensure that employees who put in an honest day's work receive an honest day's pay.
"Health care workers are among the lowest-paid employees in the nation, and this employer profited by paying these vulnerable individuals less than they were legally due under the Fair Labor Standards Act," he said.