published Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Erlanger facing labor claims from former police officers

by Chris Carroll
Erlanger Hospital
Erlanger Hospital
Tennessee Department of Labor Documents
Tennessee Department of Labor Documents

Several former Erlanger Health System police officers filed labor complaints Monday alleging the hospital wouldn’t pay them when they worked during their lunch periods.

“Erlanger would deduct our 30-minute lunch if we took our lunch or not,” states a complaint written by Jerry Lawrence, one of four officers who submitted paperwork to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Each officer filed a separate complaint.

Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the state department, confirmed the officers’ claims are being investigated. The state will begin gathering information from Erlanger “immediately,” he said, but gathering older documents and time sheets could take a while.

“It’s difficult to say when this will be resolved,” Hentschel said. “It depends on the cooperation from the employer.”

Erlanger spokeswoman Pat Charles responded to a request for comment by email.

“Erlanger has not received a complaint filed collectively by these former employees concerning this issue,” she wrote. “We have received a complaint by one of these individuals which is currently under review. As with any complaint of this nature, Erlanger would investigate the charges, file a formal response to the Department of Labor and await their ruling.”

In March, Erlanger outsourced security services to Walden Security at nearly double the cost of in-house services. The hospital terminated 30 police and security officers — including the four who filed complaints. Hospital officials have said Walden hired a dozen former Erlanger officers.

Asked why the now-unemployed officers didn’t file the complaints during their time at Erlanger, Chattanooga attorney Andrew Stinnett said the hospital discouraged dissent.

“I think they were afraid of losing their jobs,” said Stinnett, who represents seven former Erlanger officers including the four who filed complaints. “That’s what the guys tell me all the time. They felt threatened.”

The officers, who worked for between $12 and $15 an hour, were allotted 30 unpaid minutes to eat lunch as required by state law. But their complaints describe an atmosphere in which lunch was a luxury rather than a requirement.

As former officer Gary Avans put it in his complaint: “I was the only officer at Erlanger North per [eight-hour] shift. I could not leave or take a lunch break, numerous times, due to the fact that I was the only officer present. I would have to leave my lunch to answer calls.”

According to the complaints, Erlanger refused to pay the officers for their lunch-break work. In the complaints, each officer has requested half an hour’s pay per workday across their entire employment at the hospital. In three of the four officers’ cases, that equals 21⁄2 hours per week over the course of more than a decade.

Former Erlanger police officers Ron Capetz and Harold Holliday are the other two officers who have filed complaints.

“I feel that I am due each one-half hour’s pay that has been taken away from me,” Capetz wrote.

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fftspam said...

Over the course of their shifts, did these security officers document the amount of time they were sitting on their butts? I really doubt these guards ever missed a meal. Did Erlanger buy these guy's uniforms? And what size pants did they wear? When the Atlanta courthouse was shot up a few years ago, the AJC proved how fat and out of shape the guards were by FOIA the sizes of the pants ordered.

August 18, 2011 at 6:28 a.m.
Soddynooga said...

Whiny and vindictive. First they were mad because they couldn't stay employed there. Now they are mad because they were mistreated. If you were that mistreated you should have quit. Suck it up America. It's called survival of the fittest, not "boohoo what is the world going to do for me today?" Grown, hard working men don't act this way. We've all gone soft.

August 18, 2011 at 6:40 a.m.
ExecAsst said...

Actually, unless you have been an employee at Erlanger, you could not understand how these officers feel. I have, and I can understand exactly why they have decided to take legal action. Erlanger does not handle investigations into harassment or other issues as they should. They require every employee to sign a R.E.S.P.E.C.T. form, stating that he or she will treat other employees with respect. When I faced harassment from a manager (of executive level) and started with an informal complaint at HR, it was swept under the rug, no advice or solutions given. I feel I could have chosen to take legal action under harassment laws, but decided not to, I do not like confrontation. I chose to bide my time and leave. I am glad I am no longer an employee at Erlanger because the company allows things to happen to employees which are not right and do not follow the R.E.S.P.E.C.T. form the company is so proud of. They should recognize when they have good, loyal employees and not sacrifice them to protect management.

August 18, 2011 at 9:57 a.m.
Salsa said...

Erlanger lied to these employees about their jobs. There was even a video of Doug Fisher lying to these employees posted on this site a couple weeks ago. I hope they get everything they are asking for because they were the victims of a shady political deal.

August 18, 2011 at 11:43 a.m.
bigbearzzz said...

Regardles it is state law that you are required to take a 30 minute lunch in an 8 hour working day. That is the norm anywhere you go. Grow up and get on with your life and quit trying to get rich off of your own stupidity. What a rediculous lawsuit.

August 18, 2011 at 1:25 p.m.
ceeweed said...

Simple, if you work for a living don't give it away. I've seen people work, off the clock, before and after their shifts. How stupid is that? Take your scheduled breaks! I am one who nearly always sides with workers but this lawsuit seems petty to say the least. And for those dumb enough to work, off the clock, if you are injured at work without being clocked in, you are not going to be covered by Worker's Comp.

August 18, 2011 at 6:23 p.m.
teddybear16 said...

I worked for Erlanger and didn't get lunch breaks and was told by my manager not to clock out no lunch or I would be written up. I sent a copy of the email to the HR department and they agreed that it was ok for them to tell us to not clock out no lunch. We were interupted during our lunches almost everyday. We never got a free break. We always had to answer the phone or our pagers and run to calls. I lost my job when I took a medical leave to have surgery. My manager deleted my job. I had been an employee for more than 20 years.

August 18, 2011 at 9:28 p.m.
leslieB said...

One of the most important distinctions in employment and other areas of law, is that between an employee and an independent, or self-employed contractor. It has long caused unexpected upsets in otherwise amicable commercial relationships. This is not an area which stands still for long, and we raise here two questions which now increasingly need to be taken into account. Job advancement has been very anemic. Independent contractors are being employed increasingly more often to fill jobs that employees used to do. Before you sign on as an independent contractor, it is very important to understand the differentiation. Thus, Making the difference; employee vs independent contractor IRS was done.

August 26, 2011 at 5:47 a.m.
hellonurse said...

Walden's rent a cops are pathetic excuses for security guards ... I think that the old Erlanger police should just move on and be happy about it! Why would you want to stay on a sinking ship? Cut your losses, quit focusing on the negative and go find a job with an employer that respects you 100%! The complaints filed are just grasping at straws at this point - time to put on your big boy pants and move on!

September 19, 2011 at 11:14 a.m.
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