Legacy Health is facing a $5 million fine, the largest civil penalty ever assessed from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, after employees complained about being forced to skip meal and break periods.
Commissioner Brad Avakian has accused Legacy of denying 5,156 break and meal periods to hundreds of employees. The bureau delivered three notices to Legacy for the hospital system’s Meridian Park, Mount Hood Medical Center and Good Samaritan locations.
“Legacy Health fundamentally disagrees with the results of the BOLI investigation and its allegations regarding the appropriateness of the meal periods that Legacy has provided to its employees,” said Legacy spokesman Brian Terrett. “We strongly dispute BOLI’s inappropriate characterization of Legacy’s actions as willful as well as the excessive and disproportionate penalties.
Terrett said Legacy officials will ask for a hearing. If they didn’t, the fine would be assessed on Sept. 25.
The needs of patients and their families sometimes cause meal and rest breaks to be deferred, Terrett said, and he said the hospital system’s leaders are confident their position will be supported at a hearing. He also said he is dismayed the state investigators used an eight-year-old complaint as one of the examples.
“Legacy Health has always been committed to creating a safe and healthy work environment,” Terrett said in a statement. “Legacy Health provides support for all of our staff in their work, including getting the meal breaks they are entitled to under the law.”
The penalty comes after wage and hour investigators responded to numerous complaints from Legacy employees. This is not the first time Avakian has fined Legacy over the issue: Legacy paid $276,690 in November 2017 without contesting the bureau’s findings.
The notice for Mount Hood Medical Center lists 93 employees who weren’t allowed to take rest periods or meals. It had the most violations of any of the hospitals at 1,391. Good Samaritan Hospital had 1,347 violations among 70 employees who filed complaints and Meridian Park Hospital had 1,267 among 63.
The notices say Legacy leaders knew of the violations and had the opportunity to address them but did not. Gerhard Taeubel, the head of the wage and hour division at the labor bureau, wrote in the notices that hospital employees are under immense pressure and stress, so adequate rest and meal periods are extremely important.
Some of the employees worked in Good Samaritan’s labor and delivery ward.
Oregon employers must provide one half-hour unpaid meal break a day to anyone working six hours or more. Employees who work eight hours get two 10-minute rest breaks in addition to lunch — which bumps up to three for a shift at least 10 hours.
Legacy Health also faces a state and federal investigation over another location, Unity Center for Behavorial Health, that was spurred by employee complaints. That investigation has uncovered serious safety problems for staff and patients. Unity is on track to lose a crucial federal certification by the end of October if it does not fix those issues.
Employees with wage and hour complaints can call 971-673-0844 or email email@example.com.
— Molly Harbarger