Meal Times and Rest Breaks – Do you know the law?

One of the most common complaints that lead to lawsuits against employers is the lack of adequate meal and rest breaks for employees. Wage and hour laws regulate basic working conditions such as meals and rest breaks. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure supervisors are knowledgeable of these workplace wage and hour rules. Well-intentioned employers who are NOT enforcing these rules are far more likely to have an employee file an employment-related claim against them and will typically lose those claims!

What can you do to avoid potential lawsuits by employees?

It might surprise you to learn that federal law doesn’t require employers to provide any breaks at all—none, zero, zilch, zip. As long as adult employees are provided with necessary time to use a sanitary and available restroom as needed and be paid for all of the time spent working—then the employer is meeting their obligations under federal law.


Oregon is a different story, however. In Oregon, labor laws require employers to provide employees with at least a 30-minute unpaid meal period when their work period is six hours or more. The law requires this to be an uninterrupted time in which the employee is relieved of all duties.

  • If the employee is not relieved of all duties or the meal period is interrupted, the employer must pay the employee for the entire period of time.
  • For employees who work a shift of seven hours or less, this meal break must occur between the second and fifth hours of the shift.
  • For employees who work more than seven hours, the break must take place between the third and sixth hours of the shift.
  • Keep in mind – no meal period is required if the work period is less than six hours.
  • Adult employees in Oregon are also entitled to take a paid ten-minute, uninterrupted rest period for each four-hour segment of work. This rest break must be approximately in the middle of the four-hour segment of work, if practical.
  • Breaks can’t be added to the meal period or deducted from the beginning or the end of the employee’s scheduled shift to reduce the total hours worked.
  • Employers must provide minor employees under the age of 18 uninterrupted rest breaks of at least 15 minutes for each four-hour segment of work. These rest periods are in addition to the meal period described above, and they must be taken separately.


Quick Reference Guide for Meals & Rest Breaks

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Watch those exceptions! Keep in mind, there may be other rules, requirements and exceptions to working condition regulations. Examples of such exceptions include the requirement to provide meal periods to tipped food and beverage servers and salaried exempt white collar employees; rules about missing breaks due to unforeseeable acts of nature; breaks pertaining to certain industry practices; breaks for undue hardship or for workers with disabilities or protected status, or breaks to accommodate nursing mothers.


Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) has the authority to enforce these wage and hour laws and to assess civil penalties against employers of up to $1,000 for each violation of the meal and rest period laws. Employers must require their employees to take all mandated meal and rest breaks, and employers may even need to discipline an employee who refuses to do so, or a company may fall out of compliance.

Best practices include having a clearly written policy and closely supervising employees to ensure they are taking required meal and rest breaks. Call Cardinal today to help update or implement a new policy and to find out how we can help make your time and attendance tracking easier to ensure you remain in compliance!