The Oregon Court of Appeals just held that employers may be held liable not only for failing to allow employees to take meal breaks, but also for failing to ensure that employees take meal breaks to which they are entitled. This significant decision handed down on November 14 clarifies that Oregon employers have a legal duty to police their employees to ensure that they take their full meal breaks - merely providing employees with the opportunity to take such breaks is insufficient. Pursuant to the Maza v. Waterford Operations, LLC decision, if you fail to force an employee who works six or more hours to take a duty-free meal period for a continuous, uninterrupted 30 minutes, you might be responsible for paying the employee for the full 30 minutes.
Background: What Does The Law Say?
By regulation, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has long required that Oregon employers provide employees who work a shift of more than six hours with a 30-minute, unpaid meal period (and, if the employee works 14 or more hours, the employer must provide a second such unpaid meal period) (OAR 839-020-0050). Prior to amendments to that regulation in 2010, the Oregon Supreme Court held that employees did not have a private right of action against employers who failed to provide such a meal period. The court said that employees could sue employers who required work during an unpaid meal period (i.e., did not pay employees for work performed), but did not have a right of action against employers who paid employees for all time spent working but failed to provide a full 30-minute, continuous meal period.
In 2010, BOLI amended OAR 839-020-0050 to expressly provide that if an employee is not relieved of all duties for 30 continuous minutes during the meal period, the employer must pay the employee for the entire 30-minute meal period. Most employers, including Waterford Operations, reasonably read this regulation to require that they give employees the opportunity to take a meal break, but most employers did not read this regulation to require that they monitor employees to ensure they took such meal breaks. Indeed, this argument had prevailed in some federal district court cases, including the 2011 Weir v. Joly case (holding that to require an employer to police when an employee clocks in and out [for meal breaks] would be an unreasonable burden).
Oregon Court Of Appeals Adds To Employer's Burdens
In Maza, the defendant relied on this same...