Oregon employers can rest easy. The Oregon Supreme Court just ruled that employees cannot bring wage claims for missed rest and meal periods.
Oregon law requires a nonexempt employee receive a paid 10-minute rest break for every four hours worked or major portion thereof, plus a 30-minute unpaid meal period when the work period is six hours or greater. Last year, in Gafur v. Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital and Medical Center, the Oregon Court of Appeals held that an employee could assert a claim for unpaid wages (plus penalties and attorneys’ fees) for any missed rest or meal period. Oregon employers understandably feared a wave of wage and hour lawsuits, and some employers have been hit with large class actions seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars for missed rest and meal periods.
Fortunately for Oregon employers, on May 15, 2008 the Oregon Supreme Court reversed the court of appeals’ decision in Gafur, holding that Oregon’s wage payment statute does not authorize any claim for unpaid wages if a nonexempt employee works through a rest or meal period, presuming that the employee is paid for the time worked. Furthermore, nothing in the meal and rest period rules states that employees should receive additional pay if they miss their breaks.
Although this is a great decision, Oregon employers should continue to insist that nonexempt employees take their rest and meal breaks. As the Oregon Supreme Court noted in its Gafur decision, the Bureau of Labor and Industries ("BOLI") can still assess civil penalties of up to $1,000 against any person who willfully violates the rest and meal period rules, and BOLI even has the authority to seek criminal prosecution of employers who violate the rules. In addition, it would not be surprising if the next Oregon legislature proposed a revision of the wage statutes to provide a wage penalty remedy for employees who don’t get their required breaks.
If you would like to discuss this development, or any other employment law issue, please contact your Stoel Rives attorney. For a list of attorneys in the Labor and Employment group, click here.
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