The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled that employers have a duty to ensure that workers actually take the meal periods required by state regulations. With limited exceptions, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI)’s regulations on meal and rest periods require employers to provide a 30-minute unpaid meal period for each work period that is at least 6 hours and up to 8 hours long. In this case, the company’s handbook authorized a 30-minute unpaid meal period, explained how to report meal period problems, and encouraged workers to report any work during meal periods to Human Resources. Despite these precautions, a group of employees filed a class action lawsuit, demanding a full 30 minutes of pay for each meal period that lasted less than 30 minutes. The company argued that it shouldn’t owe any money unless it forced the workers to shorten their meal periods. The court sided with the workers, stating that the 30-minute meal period is a minimum employment standard that the employer must enforce (Maza v. Waterford Operations, LLC, Or App, Nov. 2019).
Tips: The court’s opinion is consistent with BOLI’s longstanding position. Take this opportunity to inform nonexempt (overtime-eligible) employees that they must take at least a 30-minute meal break (unless the situation fits within one of the limited exceptions in the regulations). If the meal period ends up being less than 30 minutes, you should plan on paying employees for that time. One big question that wasn’t addressed in the court’s decision is what happens when an employee works through an entire meal period. Because it was time worked, they would receive wages. But would the employer have to pay an additional 30 minutes’ worth of wages as compensation for the missed meal period? Vigilant will report on any developments. Also keep in mind that BOLI may impose civil penalties of up to $1,000 per violation of the meal and rest period rules. For further guidance, see our Legal Guide, Breaks and Meal Periods—Oregon, or contact your Vigilant employment attorney.