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Free lunch at meetings no substitute for pay.

Byline: ON THE JOB by Bureau of Labor and Industries For The Register-Guard

Question: Our company, which has offices in many states, holds working meetings during the lunch hour. Attendees are salaried and nonsalaried (hourly). Our offices provide food in lieu of paying employees for the time that is spent at these lunch meetings.

By providing lunch, does that mean the company is absolved of the responsibility to also pay the employees for this time? This is a practice that is conducted in many of the company offices in and out of state.

Answer: No. An employer is required to pay employees for all hours worked. Hours worked are those "suffered or permitted" by the employer. "Permit" means to allow to happen. Physical or mental exertion by the employee is not required.

Mandatory attendance at a staff meeting certainly falls within the definition of hours worked, so an employer must pay employees for time spent at the staff meeting - if attendance is required - whether or not the employer provides lunch.

The lavishness of the lunch or its general "entertainment value" is immaterial to the employer's obligation to pay the employee for the meeting time.

State law requires that Oregon employers 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.

Employees paid on a salary basis need not receive additional compensation if they are "exempt" by virtue of being paid on a salary basis and meet the duties tests. So you don't have an overtime issue with these "exempt" employees.

Employees who are nonexempt - those who are paid hourly and those who are paid a salary but do not meet the duties tests and therefore do not qualify for exempt status - must be paid for time spent in mandatory meetings. Nonexempt employees also must be paid overtime in the event the meeting time results in the employee working more than 40 hours during the workweek. However, a pragmatic approach and one that avoids overtime is to allow these employees to take the required 30-minute meal after the official lunch meeting.

The employer may - however, is not required to - allow a nonexempt employee to "flex" his or his schedule and take time off in the same workweek in order to prevent the employee from working more than the employee's regularly scheduled hours. The employer may not allow an employee to flex his or her schedule over the course of more than one workweek if the flex time results in an employee working more than 40 hours in a workweek.

The employer must pay the employee at the overtime rate of pay for all hours worked over 40 in any given workweek, even if the overtime situation directly resulted from the employee's attendance at these mandatory meetings.

There is a specifically-defined exception to the requirement to pay employees for meeting time. If the "meeting time" meets all of the following four criteria, the employer need not count the time as hours worked: the meeting occurs outside the employee's regular working hours; attendance is voluntary; the subject matter of the meeting is not directly related to the employee's job; and the employee performs no productive work.

It also may interest you to know that the employer may require attendance at the meeting even if the meeting time is not part of an employee's regular work schedule. Moreover, the employer is not required to spring for lunch regardless of whether the meeting time is compensable.

Question: What is Oregon's current minimum wage, and will it be changing soon?

Answer: The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but it will be going up to $7.50 as of Jan. 1, 2006.

Pursuant to a ballot measure passed in 2002, the labor commissioner is required to annually adjust the minimum wage for inflation, based on the Consumer Price Index. This annual adjustment is calculated every September, rounded to the nearest five cents, and becomes effective the following January.

The CPI increased by 3.6 percent this year, resulting in a 25-cent increase under the above formula.

Employers will receive a poster reflecting the new rate in December. The new poster also will be available for downloading on the BOLI Web site in December by connecting to

On The Job is written by the staff of the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries. Phone BOLI at (503) 731-4200, or write to BOLI, 800 N.E. Oregon St., No. 32, Portland, OR 97232.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 25, 2005

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