Schwabe in the Field: New Paid Rest Break Ruling Burdens Washington Agriculture — Oregon May Be Next?
In a closely watched decision, Demetrio v. Sakuma Bros. Farms, Inc., Washington's Supreme Court has held that agricultural workers paid on a piece rate basis must be paid for rest breaks. Workers must be paid for their rest breaks — likely 10 to 20 minutes — each day plus their piece rate. The Court soundly rejected Sakuma's argument that payment for rest breaks is covered by the piece rate. The Court reasoned that when workers are paid on a piece rate basis, they are incentivized not to take breaks because they do not make money during that time.
The Court looked specifically at the Washington regulation that says: "Every employee shall be allowed a rest period of at least ten minutes, on the employer's time, in each four-hour period of employment." And, it concluded that "on the employer's time" means the employer must pay for rest breaks.
To determine pay for breaks, the Court directed employers to calculate the worker's regular rate of pay. Employers must tally the total piece rate earnings and divide those earnings by the hours the worker worked (excluding rest breaks). The employer must then pay the worker for rest breaks at that rate of pay, or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is greater.
While this calculation may sound simple, it significantly complicates payroll for agricultural employers who have workers earning different rates of pay each week depending on the crop and harvest schedules. The Court's direction requires employers to calculate the rate of pay for each worker each week.
Oregon courts have not ruled on this issue, but Oregon's rest break regulation contains a similar concept. It states, in part, "Every employer shall provide to each employee ... a rest period of not less than ten continuous minutes during which the employee is relieved of all duties, without deduction from the employee's pay." Workers who are paid on a piece rate basis would arguably make less because they would harvest less during their ten minute break. In light of the Sakuma decision, Oregon agricultural employers could face a similar challenge on rest breaks for piece rate workers.
- Jean Ohman BackOf Counsel
- Stephanie BerntsenShareholder