Attorney contends policy puts patients at risk
By Paul Krueger
A recently filed federal court lawsuit alleges that the City of San Diego’s emergency medical provider, Rural/Metro, has systematically denied its ambulance crews state-required rest breaks.
An attorney for Rural/Metro’s paramedics and EMTs says the lack of those 10 minute breaks, which are required every four hours for non-salaried employees in California, endangers patients’ lives and health.
“Employees who are tired, who are not given a chance to recuperate every so often, are not as careful and make mistakes,” employment law specialist Harvey Berger told NBC 7 Investigates.
According to the lawsuit, from 2013 to at least February of this year, Rural/Metro required crews to “remain on-call at all times and were required to carry pagers, cell phones, radios, or other electronic devices, to keep those devices on, and to remain vigilant and responsive to calls when the need arose,” in violation of the state labor code.
The lawsuit is filed as a class-action, and if approved by the court, it will cover all Rural/Metro ambulance crews in California.
One document filed in the case reveals that that Rural/Metro’s California crews worked more than 600,000 shifts at an average wage of $17.50 per hour. Because the state requires employers to pay workers a full hour’s pay for every missed rest break, Rural/Metro faces penalties of more than $10 million, if the plaintiff’s prevail in this legal action.
“The law in California has been clear for many years,” Berger said. “The penalty is one hour a day if you miss a meal period and one hour a day if you miss your rest period.”
But Berger said giving paramedics and EMTs the state-mandated stress-relieving rest breaks is more important than the money they might be owed.
“Do you want an ambulance, a paramedic or an EMT to make a mistake when they’re taking care of you or your family?” he asked rhetorically.
In a court filing, Rural Metro denied it violates labor laws.
A spokeswoman for Rural Metro’s parent company, Envision Healthcare, told NBC 7 Investigates, “It is our policy to not comment on pending litigation. However, we are confident that we comply with all local, state and federal laws.”