The Washington state class action by Wal-Mart employees for missed meal and rest breaks and for being forced to work off the clock finally ended this week with a payment to the workers of $35,000,000 and $10,000,000 to their attorneys. Wal-Mart (are you surprised?) denies any wrongdoing. For more on the lawsuit and subsequent settlement, click to read the Huffington Post's analysis or this coverage by Forbes. The settlement, which is just one of many for Wal-Mart, is another important reminder that liability for wage and hour violations can really add up. And it adds up really fast when the class size is over 80,000 workers.
Washington employers should check with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries for information on meal and rest break rules.
Now, Washington Wal-Mart workers, go spend those "stimulus" dollars! You have until August 19 to fill out your claim form.
The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) issued a revised regulation earlier this week on employees’ meal breaks which will be of interest to many smaller employers.
The revised regulation, which is effective as of January 12, 2009, retains the basic requirement that employees normally be provided with a 30-minute, unpaid meal period in which they are relieved of all duties (for shifts longer than 6 hours). However, it adds additional options for employers who do not provide the full 30-minute meal period and/or relieve an employee completely from duty (such as when the employee remains on-call).
Under the new regulation, an employer is not required to provide an employee with a 30-minute meal period in which the employee is relieved of all duties if the employer can demonstrate that:
- failure to provide a meal period was caused by unforeseeable equipment failures, acts of nature or other exceptional and unanticipated circumstances that only rarely and temporarily preclude the provision of a meal period;
- industry practice or custom has established a paid meal period of less than 30 minutes (but no less than 20 minutes) during which employees are relieved of all duties; or
- providing a 30-minute, unpaid meal period where the employee is relieved of all duties would impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business (the regulations also provide guidance on what is an “undue hardship”).
An employer that does not provide meal periods under the “undue hardship” exception must comply with two additional requirements: (a) the employer must also provide the employee adequate periods in which to rest, consume a meal, and use the restroom without deduction from the employee’s pay; and (b) the employer must first provide to each employee a notice provided by BOLI regarding rest and meal periods in the language used by the employer to communicate with the employee. BOLI will make such notices available by March 16, 2009.
Want more information? Click here to download BOLI's press release explaining the new regulations. Or click here to download the full text of the new regulation, including the definition of undue hardship. Or, click here if you want BOLI's full run-down of the law on rest and meal breaks in general.
Back in August, we reported a California Court of Appeals decision that employers must provide rest and meal breaks, but are not required to control that the breaks were taken. Last week, the California Supreme Court granted review of that case - it might uphold the decision, but it might also overturn it.
The grant of review means the lower court case has no effect until the Supreme Court rules. California employers should return to policing meal and rest breaks to make sure employees take them, at least until a new decision comes from the California Supreme Court, probably early next year. Watch the Stoel Rives World of Employment for updates!