The University of Maine dining services is under fire following a violation of employment policies for failing to pay students for 15-minute breaks during employee’s’ shifts. UMaine is expected to pay approximately $75,000 in wages back to more than 900 current and former dining service student employees.
The money will compensate student workers who were not paid for their breaks over a two-year span. Those students will be receiving checks ranging from $1.88 to $556 through the spring, according to the university. According to the Bangor Daily News, the average payment is approximately $41 per student. Dining services, which operates all the dining halls, cafes and a pub on campus, has an annual payroll of $850,000 for student employees.
According to the university’s policy, student employees were told to clock out for their 15-minute breaks and also received a complimentary meal during that time. In September 2016, three students presented concerns about not being paid for those break periods. The issue was raised to supervisors and university officials, prompting a forum to gather student feedback on employee break practices.
A second-year student who works in dining services was unaware of the issue at first. “I started working at Wells in Late [sic] October 2016. I heard about the break issue first from friends as a rumor, then through an email from the University. My thoughts are that the situation shouldn’t have happened, but I’m glad someone brought the issue up and that it is getting corrected. I did receive a check for payment of the breaks that I wasn’t payed [sic] for in the first place. Not much has changed since the issue came out and we are getting paid for breaks now. I have no idea when the issue started, but from what I have heard it’s been going on for a while.”
The three students who brought the issue up believed the practice violated federal wage regulations. According to the BDN, the university contended that the practice was not illegal, but that the procedure “didn’t match the written student employment policies.”
Fourth-year psychology student, Dylan Haroldsen, a current employee at the Bear’s Den Cafe and Pub, was happy to see a change in policy following the issue.
“My first job in dining services was at Well [sic] dining hall. I then transferred to my current location after a semester, the Bear’s Den Cafe & Pub. I first heard about the break issues through my roommate, Alex. He is friends with the student who confronted the University and demanded to be compensated. It was approximately three weeks ago that I heard about this issue. I believe that this was the right thing to do. This past fall, the university changed their break policy. Instead of clocking out for breaks, we are now allowed paid fifteen minute breaks for 4 hours of work or longer. Therefore, it was unfair of the university to hold money. However, I was pretty excited to pick up my compensation check, it allowed me to put a little extra money in my savings account. Since the policy change, we record our fifteen minute breaks on a sheet of paper to enable to university to track our breaks.”
According to the BDN, the university is paying current and former employees retroactive wages from October 2014 through October 2016 because “it’s following the typical lookback period that would apply in a Department of Labor wage dispute.”