The federal government does not obligate employers to offer break time to employees. Many employees believe it’s against the law for employers not to offer meal breaks or 15-minute breaks throughout the workday. The truth is that it’s completely legal for employers not to offer any breaks throughout the workday.
Of course, state law sometimes is more detailed about employee rights in the workplace. In Pennsylvania, employers are not required to give meal or rest breaks. The one exception to this rule are employers of seasonal farm workers. Pennsylvania state law obligates them to provide a 30-minute meal break after 5 hours of work to seasonal farm workers. The time is unpaid, but seasonal farm workers are relieved of all duties during their 30-minute meal break.
Although many employers offer the flexibility of a 30-minute, unpaid lunch break to their employees, it is not obligated by law. However, the Department of Labor does require employers to pay their employees for short periods of rest time, such as a 5-minute bathroom break up to a 20-minute coffee break. Of course, some employers choose to regulate how many paid short breaks an employee can have.
Paid vs. Unpaid Breaks
Federal law demands that employers pay for hours worked by their employees, including segments of time that might be deemed as “breaks.” An employee might eat and work, and the employer might call this a meal break. But the employee is working while eating so no matter what the time is called this is a paid break. A lunch break where the employee is not working is unpaid.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not obligate employers to provide breaks. Meanwhile, the law does require employers who allow breaks to pay employees for short breaks that last between 5-20 minutes. If an employer does not offer those break times, then the law cannot demand that an employer pay for those breaks.
When your employer allows meal or rest breaks, your employer doesn’t have to pay you unless you work through your break or only take a short break that lasts 20 minutes or less.
Some employee contracts require that the employer pays for meals and breaks. However, since Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state, most employees do not have contracts. But, if you do have a contract, your employer is obligated to satisfy the requirements placed on them by the contract.
Although Pennsylvania labor laws do not require employers to provide breaks to employees, many employers allow for these breaks anyway. By law, adult employees have no legal rights to breaks unless their employer gives breaks. But when it comes to bathroom breaks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Pennsylvania labor laws do request that employers allow employees reasonable bathroom breaks as needed. It’s possible that your employer is in violation of PA labor laws if you are not allowed bathroom breaks. Consult an employment lawyer.
Rest Breaks for Minors
In Pennsylvania, the labor laws require employers to give appropriate breaks to minors. Workers between the ages of 14 and 17 who work 5+ hours in a row must receive a 30-minute meal break. The employer can decide whether or not this 30-minute meal break is paid or not. Rest breaks for minors that last less than 20 minutes must be paid.
Under federal and state law, employers are obligated to provide breastfeeding employees with unpaid breaks as needed. The Affordable Care Act outlines that working mothers should be provided with breaks for 1 year after the child’s birth for breastfeeding. The law also requires that employers provide a place other than the bathroom for pumping breast milk. The law recognizes that employees who breastfeed will need breaks for pumping to continue breastfeeding their child.
Since the law does not obligate employers to offer rest breaks, if your employer isn’t giving you any breaks, that’s frustrating but not illegal. However, if you detect that your employer is discriminating against you or violating the law in some way, contact an employment lawyer who will know how to navigate your case and your rights under the law.