The Oregon Court of Appeals just decided that, even if an employer’s handbook states that employees are entitled to meal breaks and should not work during their meal breaks, it is the employer’s “duty to monitor employees’ work and meal periods to ensure that full meal periods are taken.” In other words, employers are responsible for making sure employees take their meal breaks, do not work for a full 30 minutes, and do not come back early. And, where a full 30 minute meal break is not taken, for whatever reason, the employer must pay the employee for the entire 30 minute meal period.
Most Oregon employers are aware that they must provide at least a 30 minute unpaid meal break for every work period of 6 – 8 hours, except in narrow circumstances where employees can waive meal breaks. Most employers (including the defendant in this case) have taken the position that their obligation is solely to “provide” i.e., make available, a 30 minute meal break. However, the Court of Appeals decision rejects this position and holds that employers must do more than merely “provide” meal breaks – employers have an affirmative obligation to ensure that the 30-minute meal break is actually taken.
Note, the penalty for failing to provide a full 30 minute meal break – paying the employee for the full 30 minutes – has always been the in the rules and has always led to the seemingly unfair result of an employer having to pay an employee for a full 30 minutes when the employee took a 29 minute break. However, this new decision makes clear that employers are responsible for making sure employees do not come back early or take less than a full 30 minutes.
The Court of Appeals does not provide any guidance on how an employer should carry out this obligation or what policies or procedures an employer might adopt to guarantee that every employee takes a full 30 minute meal break. But, as a practical matter, employers should review their meal break policies and consider measures to insure employees cannot return early or clock-in before a full 30 minutes has elapsed.
The decision is here: Maza v. Waterford Operations (03316933x7AC43)