Agricultural workers in Oregon to get meal and rest breaks, Gardner orders

Oregon Labor Commissioner Dan Gardner issued an administrative rule effective Feb. 1 that requires employers to offer meal and rest periods to agricultural workers.

Previously, agricultural workers were exempt from meal and rest period protections.

“Meal and rest periods address the basic working conditions of workers and protect their health and well-being. They help avoid accidents and exhaustion and assure workers have adequate time to take care of personal sanitary needs,” said Gardner, a former officer of Electrical Workers Local 48.

Under Oregon Administrative Rules, adult employees are to be paid for a 10-minute rest period for every four-hour segment of work. and they must take a 30-minute meal period if the work period is six hours or longer.

Employers are not required to pay for meal periods as long as an employee is completely relieved of all duties during the entire meal period. If an employee occasionally cannot be relieved of all duties due to the nature or circumstances of the work, then the meal period must be paid.

Before implementing the final rule, Gardner convened a 10-member advisory committee to identify concerns. The committee recommended that the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) review the current “nature or circumstances” of work exception to the meals and rest period provisions to see how it would apply in an agricultural setting. Employers can currently utilize this exception to have some flexibility on what time of day the rest or meals periods are provided or to temporarily require an employee to perform some duties during a meal period.

Although several states have similar “nature or circumstances” of work exceptions, no state has defined or interpreted these terms specifically for the agricultural industry, BOLI said.

“Despite our differences, the committee agreed it is important to provide healthy and safe working conditions for agricultural workers,” Gardner said. “The bureau has made a good-faith effort to address the industry’s concerns by drafting an interpretation of the ‘nature or circumstances’ exception and specifically addressing some of the agricultural industry’s concerns in regards to adverse weather and crop conditions. I am confident with continued input from the industry that we can fully address and resolve their concerns using this interpretation.”

Sixteen states provide meal periods to agricultural workers and four states provide rest periods. Oregon joins California and Washington in providing both.

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