June 2008

Oregon’s Highest Court Says No Private Action for Missing Paid Breaks

The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in Gafur v Legacy Health System, 344 Or 525 (May 15, 2008). The Court of Appeals had upheld a private cause of action for unpaid wages connected with missing paid breaks. The lower court reasoned the employee deprived of a paid break should receive four hours of pay for three hours and fifty minutes of work. Missing the break caused the equivalent of ten minutes of unpaid wages.

On review, the Oregon Supreme Court disagreed. It held that the administrative rule outlining the right to paid breaks dealt with conditions of employment and not wages. The employee that misses a break does not work without pay – he or she works four hours and is paid for four hours. It reasoned the wage statute does not entitle an employee to pay for time not worked. This holding means individual employees cannot bring claims for unpaid wages based on the failure to receive paid breaks.

Employers should be relieved by this ruling, but should not relax in enforcing paid breaks. A violation of paid break rules remains subject to action by BOLI for civil penalties.