Oregon Meal Break Law

Almost all Oregon employees must receive rest breaks and meal periods. Effective February 1, 2004, this includes agricultural employees, except for those specifically exempted under ORS 653.020(1). Certain government workers and workers exempt from minimum wage and overtime laws are excluded from the requirements for rest breaks and meal periods.
Chapter 653 of the Oregon Revised Statutes defines required conditions of employment in Oregon and gives the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) authority to promulgate and enforce rules in this area. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) covers most Oregon employers and does not require rest breaks or meal periods, employers must comply with the law that is most beneficial to the employee -- in this case, the Oregon law.
ORS 653.261 and 653.256 allow BOLI to issue rules on breaks and assess penalties for violations. OAR 839-020-0050 sets forth the specific rules, and OAR 839-020-1010(1)(i) and (j) allow for civil penalties for rule violations, which can be as high as $1,000 per violation. OAR 839-020-1010(2).
Under Oregon law, the typical adult employee whose work period is eight hours long must receive at least a 30-minute unpaid meal period and two paid ten-minute rest breaks. Following are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions regarding meal period and rest break rules.

Q. What are the basic requirements for meal periods under Oregon law?
A. Oregon employers must provide employees with at least a 30-minute unpaid meal period when the work period is six hours or greater. The law requires an uninterrupted period in which the employee is relieved of all duties. No meal period is required if the work period is less than six hours.
Q. How is the "work period" determined?
A. The work period is defined as the period between the time an employee begins work and time the employee ends work, including all rest breaks and any period of one hour or less during which the employee is relieved of all duties. However, effective January 2002, meal periods do not count as part of the work period unless the employee continues to perform duties during the meal period. OAR 839-020-0050(4).
Q. Does the meal period have to be taken during a particular part of the worker´s shift?
A. Yes. If the work period is at least six hours but less than seven hours, the meal must be taken between the second and fifth hour worked. If the work period is more than seven hours, the meal period must be taken between the third and sixth hour worked.
Q. What if the nature or circumstances of the work prevent me from giving my workers an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period?
A. If, because of the nature or circumstances of the work, an employee is required to remain on duty or to perform any tasks during the meal period, the employer must consider the meal period as hours worked and pay the employee for the period. Note: Whenever it is possible to provide an uninterrupted 30-minute meal period, the employer must do so.
Q. In what situations does the "nature or circumstances" exception apply?
A. Following are examples of "nature or circumstances" exceptions and criteria to consider:
Example: Jack, a production line worker, normally gets an unpaid 30-minute meal period in which he is relieved from duty. On Tuesday, Jack is the only employee qualified to run the line, and he must keep the machinery running to meet a high-priority customer deadline. He eats his lunch as he works and is paid for the meal period.
Example: Margo works in a small retail shop and is normally relieved from duty by another employee so she can go to lunch from 12:30 to 1:00 p.m. On Thursday, two other employees call in sick unexpectedly, and Margo is the only employee on duty from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Because of a steady stream of customers in the store, she is unable to take an uninterrupted 30-minute lunch period. She eats her lunch during slow periods, and she is paid for the entire nine-hour shift.
Factors to be considered with regard to "nature or circumstances" include:

  1. Safety and health of employees, patients, clients and the public;
  2. Availability of other employees to provide relief;
  3. Qualifications of those available to provide relief;
  4. Costs involved in the shutdown/startup of machinery;
  5. Intermittent and unpredictable work flow not in the control of the employer or employees;
  6. Unforeseeable equipment failures, emergencies, acts of nature. OAR 839-020-0050(3).

Q. Are the meal period rules different for minors?
A. The rules are slightly different for minors (employees under 18). They must receive at least a 30-minute meal period no later than five hours and one minute after beginning work. OAR 839-021-0072(2). The "nature or circumstances" exception outlined above applies to 16- and 17-year-olds, but not to 14- and 15-year-olds, who must always receive the required meal period regardless of the nature of the job. OAR 839-021-0072.
Q. Are some employees exempt from these rules?
A. Yes. For example, individuals classified as white collar, salaried, exempt employees -- certain supervisors, administrative employees and professional employees -- are not subject to the rules on rest breaks and meal periods. Also, ORS 653.261, effective January 1, 2002, exempts nurses who provide acute care in hospital settings from these rules if provisions of a collective bargaining agreement entered into by the nurses prescribe rules concerning rest and meal periods.
Q. Can employees other than nurses be exempt from the rest break and meal period rules based on a union contract?
A. Yes. If a collective bargaining agreement entered into by employees contains provisions that specifically prescribe rules concerning meal periods and rest periods, those provisions may modify the normal rules on rest breaks and meal periods. OAR 839-020-0050(5).

Q. What are the basic requirements for rest breaks under Oregon law?
A. Employers must provide workers with a paid, uninterrupted 10-minute rest break for every four-hour segment or major portion thereof in the work period. OAR 839-020-0050(1)(b). The rest break should be given in the middle of each segment, whenever possible.
Q. What does "major portion" of four hours mean?
A. The "major portion" of four hours means any segment greater than two hours. Whenever a segment exceeds two hours, the employer must provide a rest break for that segment.
Q. How do I calculate the number of rest periods I must give my employees in one day?
A. Determine the employee´s total work period (start time to end time, excluding meal periods) and count the number of four-hour segments or major portions of four hours in the period.
Example: Chelsea works exactly two hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Since this is not the major portion of four hours, her employer does not need to provide a rest break.
Example: Lilah works 2½ hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. This is the major portion of four hours, so Lilah must receive one 10-minute paid rest break.
Example: Alan works from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and takes a 30-minute unpaid meal period at noon. His work period is 8 hours, which contains two four-hour segments. Therefore, Alan must receive two 10-minute paid rest breaks in his work day, one at approximately 10:00 a.m. and one at approximately 2:30 p.m.
Example: Erika works from 8:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Her employer gives her a half-hour paid lunch period. Erika´s work period is thus 10 hours (start time to end time, excluding the meal period). Since her work period contains two four-hours segments, Erika must receive two paid 10-minute rest breaks. The remaining two-hour segment is not a major portion of four hours and therefore does not require a third rest break. Note, however, that if Erika worked a slightly longer shift, say until 6:45 p.m., a third rest break would be required.
Q. Must the rest breaks always be given in the middle of each four-hour work segment?
A. Rest breaks must be given as close to the middle of the work segment as possible, unless the nature or circumstances of the work prevent it. If the nature or circumstances of the work prevent the employer from giving the break at the appointed time, the employee must still receive the required break, but may take it at another point in the work period. OAR 839-020-0050(1)(b).
Q. Are there different rest break rules for minors?
A. The rules for minors are similar, but minors must receive paid, uninterrupted rest breaks of at least 15 minutes for each four-hour segment or major portion thereof. OAR 839-021-0072.


Length of work period Number of rest breaks required Number of meal periods required
2 hrs or less 0 0
2 hrs, 1 min-5 hrs, 59 mins 1 0
6 hrs 1 1
6 hrs, 1 min-10 hrs 2 1
10 hrs, 1 min-13 hrs 59 mins 3 1
14 hrs 3 2
14 hrs-1 min to 18 hrs 4 2
18 hrs, 1 min-21 hrs, 59 mins 5 2
22 hrs 5 3
22 hrs, 1 min-24 hrs 6 3

Q. May I require my employees to stay on the premises during their rest periods?
A. Yes, as long as the employees are completely relieved of all duties.
Q. Am I obligated to give additional rest breaks to employees who are smokers?
A. No.
Q. My employee arrived 10 minutes late for work and indicated she would work through her first break to make up the time. Is that acceptable?
A. No. Your employee must actually take all required breaks. The rest break cannot be deducted from the beginning or end of the work period.
Q. My employee says he prefers to skip his afternoon rest break and leave 10 minutes early. Is that OK?
A. No. As indicated above, you must require employees to take all required breaks during the work period.
Q. If my employee works through the lunch period and wants to leave 30 minutes early, may I allow that?
A. Generally, no. If it is possible for you to provide the 30-minute meal period, you must do so and require the employee to take the meal break. If, however, the nature or circumstances of the job prevent you from providing an uninterrupted meal period, you must pay the employee for working through the meal period, and you may then choose to shorten the employee´s shift. Note: If the employee´s total work period is less than six hours, the employer need not provide a meal period at all. In some cases, it may be mutually desirable to schedule an employee for a work period of less than six hours. If the work period is 5½ hours, for example, the employer need only provide one paid 10-minute rest break, and no meal period is required.
Q. My employees say they prefer to skip their breaks and instead add them onto the meal period so they can have an extended lunch. As long as they receive the correct total break time, is this allowed?
A. No. To be in compliance, you must require employees to take all breaks separately and during the proper time periods (unless the nature or circumstances of the work require otherwise).
Q. No matter how often I remind my employee, he refuses to take his rest breaks. Since I have given him every opportunity to take the breaks but he chooses not to, am I in compliance?
A. No. Your employee cannot legally waive his rights to receive the required rest breaks or meal periods. It is not the employee´s choice whether or not to take the required breaks. To be in compliance, you must require your employee to take all mandated breaks, and you may even need to discipline an employee who refuses to do so. Since rules adopted in 1997 allow for penalties of up to $1000 per violation, employers should be more vigilant than ever in enforcing break rules and should never permit an employee to skip required breaks.
NOTE: Rest and meal period rules for adults do not apply to certain governmental employees. ORS 659.261(3), OAR 839-020-0130. Also, the Wage and Hour Commission may, for good cause shown, exempt an employer or class of employers from the rest and meal period provisions for minors. OAR 839-021-0072(4).

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