Whether an employer permits its employees to have meal breaks and rest breaks is largely within the employer’s discretion. While some states, like California and New York, have strict requirements for employers to provide meal and rest breaks, Pennsylvania is not one of them.
Under Pennsylvania law, there is no requirement for an employer to provide a meal or rest break to its adult employees. Pennsylvania’s only requirement for a rest break applies to minor employees between ages 14 through 17.
Furthermore, under federal law, there is no legal requirement for a meal or rest break. Thus, in Pennsylvania, absent a collective bargaining agreement, an adult employee does not have a legal right to breaks.
Here is a summary of what Pennsylvania labor laws require for employers:
Meal Breaks in Pennsylvania
Many employers voluntarily offer meal breaks to improve employees’ productivity and improve their job satisfaction. However, there is no legal requirement to provide a workday meal break in Pennsylvania, except for employees between the ages of 14 and 17 and for seasonal farmworkers.
Pennsylvania labor laws require that these minor employees and seasonal farmworkers be given at least a 30-minute uninterrupted meal or rest break for every 5 hours of continuous work.
Adult employees are not entitled to any breaks under federal or state law. However, if an employer offers a meal break as part of its company policy, then it must adhere to federal requirements.
Federal law requires that employees be paid for hours worked. If the employer offers a meal break of at least 30 minutes during which the employee is relieved of all job duties, then the employer does not have to compensate the employee during the meal break. However, if the employee is required to work through the designated “meal break” (e.g., a receptionist who must still answer the phone during lunch), then the employee must be paid.
Meal breaks must not be provided in a discriminatory manner. In other words, an employer cannot deny the meal break to a specific employee based on sex, race, disability, national origin, religion, age, or race.
The most common pitfall for employers is allowing some work to be performed during a meal break, which renders the break compensable. To avoid this, the employer may prohibit any kind of work during a meal break or may require employees to leave their workstations during the allotted meal breaks.
Rest Breaks in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania employers are not legally required to offer employees rest breaks except in two circumstances. Seasonal farmworkers and minors aged 14 through 17 must be given a 30-minute break after five hours of continuous working.
Many employers do offer rest breaks as a matter of custom or policy. Others may offer paid or unpaid breaks as arranged in a collective bargaining agreement. There is, however, no legal obligation for a Pennsylvania employer to provide workday breaks. If the employer elects to provide a rest break, then federal law requires that employers pay employees during short breaks of up to 20 minutes.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires nursing mothers to be given a break to express milk, whenever the mothers need to express milk, for one year after the child’s birth. Employers must provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is private, meaning “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public,” where women may express milk. The law only applies to non-exempt employees (i.e., those who are entitled to overtime pay for overtime work), and it exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees if it would be an undue hardship for the business to provide such breaks. These breaks do not need to be paid under the FLSA. However, where employers provide compensated breaks, a nursing mother must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.
Penalties for Violating FLSA Meal and Rest Break Requirements
Employers can refuse to allow breaks except for minors between ages 14 and 17. However, if an employer provides a rest break or requires an employee to perform work during a designated meal break, then the employer must pay their employees for the break. If they aren’t paid, then employees may file a wage and hour violation complaint to seek compensation for denied wages.
Where to Get More Information About Pennsylvania Labor Laws
For additional information about employer obligations under Pennsylvania labor laws, including posting requirements for wage and hour and other labor laws, check out our site dedicated to Pennsylvania labor law posting requirements.