On April 23, 2020, the Oregon Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the Oregon Court of Appeals in which employers were held to a standard of “strict liability” for failing to ensure that non-exempt employees take their full 30-minute meal breaks.
In Maza v. Waterford Operations, LLC, current and former employees brought a class action lawsuit against their employer seeking penalty wages for allegedly shortened meal periods. The employer argued the case was not suited for class action treatment because, while employers are required to provide a 30-minute meal period, there are times when the employer cannot guarantee that employees take their full meal period, such as when employees work remotely or voluntarily return to work before the full 30 minutes have elapsed. The trial court agreed with the employer’s argument, and the employees appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals.
The Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with the class of employees, ruling that the minimum meal period prescribed by Oregon Administrative Rule 839-020-00501 is “mandatory” and, in the absence of a waiver of the meal period as provided in OAR 839-020-0050(8), an employer of non-exempt employees must require a 30-minute meal period free of all work duties. The Court of Appeals noted it was an employer’s duty to exercise control over its employees to ensure full 30-minute meal periods are taken and that employers face “strict liability” for failing to ensure that employees take the full meal break.
The employer appealed the Oregon Court of Appeals’ ruling, but the Oregon Supreme Court declined to review the ruling, which means that Oregon employers will continue to face strict liability for failing to ensure that their employees take full 30-minute meal breaks.
In light of the significant burdens imposed by the Maza case, Oregon employers should review their policies and practices around employee meal breaks and consult experienced labor and employment counsel with any questions.