Employees of nursing homes in Lexington Park and Cambridge filed a federal lawsuit last week alleging that they are being forced to work during breaks and at the end or beginning of their scheduled work shifts without getting paid.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on behalf of nine employees for Bayside Nursing Home in Lexington Park, and Mallard Bay Nursing Home in Cambridge. Both facilities are owned and managed by Florida-based Home Quality Management, named as defendant in the lawsuit.

"Every employee we have spoken to has described a critical shortage of workers in the nursing homes," said Carey Butsavage, a Washington attorney representing the employees in the federal lawsuit.

"These employees are forced to work without pay because of the lack of adequate staffing at the facilities," Butsavage said.

The employees, who allege violations of federal labor standards and Maryland wage laws, are seeking an undetermined amount of back pay and damages, Butsavage said.

Neither Elizabeth Fago, owner of Home Quality Management, nor Pat Stewart, an attorney for the company, returned telephone calls seeking a response to the workers' allegations.

Butsavage said a shortage of staff at both nursing homes has led to many employees working through their meal breaks and beyond the end of scheduled work shifts or before they begin.

Last week, for instance, employee Pamela Roach said she was forced to skip her meal break more than once because she was called to help return a nursing home patient to bed. Roach is a certified nurse's assistant at Bayside Nursing Care.

"We raised all kinds of complaints [with management]," Roach said. "But they don't want to hear that. Nobody listens around there to what we have to say."

Bayside Nursing Care in Lexington Park is in the midst of contract negotiations with 80 employees who are members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 400.

The employees--nurse's assistants, certified medical assistants, housekeepers, dietary and laundry workers--at the 125-bed nursing home are seeking a 50-cent hourly raise and health insurance coverage for dependents.

Last month, negotiations stalled after a manager allegedly told an employee that if she wanted health insurance for dependents, she could apply for welfare benefits.

Fago, of Home Quality Management, denied that report.