Oregon Supreme Court Rules That Oregon Law Follows Federal Definition of “Work Time.”

Stoel Rives - World of Employment

Stoel Rives - World of Employment

In a recent decision titled Buero v. Amazon.com Services, Inc.­­, 370 Or. 502 (2022),  the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that Oregon’s wage and hour law uses the same definition of “work time” as the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  The Buero decision resolves what had been a hotly contested legal issue for many years and clarifies that Oregon employers (most of which are subject to Oregon law and the FLSA) satisfy their legal obligation to calculate employees’ compensable time using the same legal standard for both sets of laws.  

The facts of the Buero case are straightforward.  The employee, Buero, worked at an Amazon warehouse that included a secure area for storing merchandise. When leaving the secured area at the end of their shifts, employees had to pass through a security screening protocol that Amazon put in place to prevent theft.  The specific nature of the security screening depended on such factors as whether the employees brought bags (purses, backpacks, etc.) with them into the secured area at the start of their shifts.  

Buero argued that Amazon violated Oregon law by not paying her and the warehouse’s other non-exempt employees for the time they spent completing the post-shift security checks.  Amazon responded that completing post-shift security checks was not “work time” under Oregon law and pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk,574 U.S. 27 (2014), in which the court held that a similar security protocol was not “work time” under the FLSA because the activity was not “integral and indispensable” to the warehouse employees’ primary duties.  Buero sought to distinguish Busk on the grounds that, unlike the FLSA, Oregon’s definition of “work time” includes “time of authorized attendance.”  Thus, Buero argued, because Amazon “authorized” her and her co-workers to be in “attendance” during the security checks, the time had to be paid notwithstanding whether it was “integral and indispensable.” 

The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with Amazon.  Although the court declined to reach a definitive definition of “time of authorized attendance,” it concluded that the phrase had to be read in context with the history and structure of Oregon’s wage and hour law, which the Oregon Supreme Court found demonstrated the Oregon Legislature’s intent to mirror the FLSA’s definition of “work time.”  Thus, because the security checks were not “work time” under the FLSA, they were likewise not “work time” under Oregon law.

Although Buero brings much needed clarity to the issue of whether Oregon law tracks federal law on the definition of “work time,” the question of whether employees must be paid for pre- and post-shift activities is often complex and highly dependent on specific facts and circumstances.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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