Lunch and Break Law Regulations in Pennsylvania (PA)

Many employers and employees want to know if breaks and meals are required by law. You might be surprised to learn that Pennsylvania does not have any laws on the books specifically related to this area, except those pertaining to minors. Pennsylvania law requires that minors ages 14 to 17 must be given a meal or rest period of at least 30 minutes if they have worked five hours or more continuously.

Although Pennsylvania does not have a lunch and break law for those persons 18 and over, there are applicable federal rules for Pennsylvania residents. While Federal Law does not mandate specific breaks or meal periods, it does give guidance as to whether or not an employee should be paid during these times. Short breaks are usually 20 minutes or less, and should be counted as hours worked. Genuine “meal periods” are usually 30 minutes or more, and do not need to be compensated as work time. For this to be the case, however, the worker must be completely relieved of his or her duties during the meal break. If the employee is still required to do any duties (even minor duties such as answering a phone), it can’t be considered a meal or lunch period and must be paid.

Federal law also contains other provisions related to employee pay during times of waiting, sleeping and traveling. Whether or not waiting time needs to be considered paid work hours depends on the situation. If an employee is allowed to do something of his or her choosing while waiting for another task to be finished or while waiting at the workplace for his or her services to be called upon, it is generally considered work time. On the other hand, if an employee is waiting to be called upon, but has great freedom to do what he or she wishes while on call (and has plenty of time to respond to the call), it is not generally considered paid work time.

When it comes to sleeping time, an employee required to be on duty less than 24 hours is considered to be “working” even if he or she is permitted to sleep during some of those hours when not busy. If an employee is on duty more than 24 hours, a sleeping period of no more than eight hours may be deducted from work hours. However, this can only be done if sleeping quarters are provided and at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep may be achieved by the employee.

A final issue I sometimes find comes up in the area of work hours is the issue of travel time. The general rule of thumb is that time spent in the normal day’s commute to and from work is not considered paid working time. However, if an employee is traveling in the course of a days work, it must be considered paid work time.

A helpful listing of information on the laws related to lunches, breaks and other pertinent labor issues can be found on the Pennsylvania Complete Labor Law Poster.

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15 Thoughts on “Lunch and Break Law Regulations in Pennsylvania (PA)”

Dennis

September 3, 2010 at 8:34 pm

In Pennsylvania, if an employer prevents it workers from leaving the building during the entire work shift, how would lunch be treated? would the employer be required to pay the workers for lunch? The workers are not punched in at this time, but they are not on company time, but still cannot leave the building… Seems like hostage, kidnapping sort of practice, if not being paid for this time that the worker cannot leave, and be completely free to do what he or she desires, on his or her lunch..

Amelia

September 3, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Hi Dennis! Um, sorry but we cannot agree. In a hostage situation, the hostages are prevented by violence from leaving, or physically locked in. If they try to leave, they will be killed. In this situation, the employee can actually leave anytime he or she likes…they just won’t have a job when they come back. There is a big difference.
At least one state (California) does require that employees be paid for the lunch break if they are not allowed to leave the premises. However, Pennsylvania has no such law. Because Pennsylvania does not have a meal break law that applies to adults, the federal FLSA or Fair Labor Standards Act is the relevant statute. That law allows an employer to not pay workers for a meal break or 20 minutes or more, as long as the worker is relieved of all duties during the break. This is true, even if the employees must remain on the premises due to company policy. It is actually very, very common in many industries to require employees to remain on the premises during a meal break. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

greg west

September 5, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Is there a specific time frame that an employer must give an employee a lunch break?

I am trying to find out if you are scheduled for an eight hour day,how long can you work before they have to give you a lunch break?

Amelia

September 5, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Hi greg! This matter is not addressed under Pennsylvania or federal employment laws. As you can tell from the article above, Pennsylvania has no law that requires an employer to give a meal break to an employee who is at least 18 years old. Nineteen U.S. states have laws requiring meal breaks for almost all workers, and most of those laws specify the timing of meal breaks. Pennsylvania does not.

The literal answer to your question is that a Pennsylvania employee scheduled for an 8-hour day might have to work 8 hours before he or she has a meal break. An employee in Pennsylvania could be required to work 12, 16, 20 or more hours without a meal break. Obviously, this is not humane, but it is legal in the state.

Or, the employer could require the employee to take an unpaid 30-minute meal break after working 7 hours. This would be legal in Pennsylvania.

There is no federal law that requires employers in general industry to give breaks to workers. The federal law does require that employees be paid for any breaks that are less than 20 minutes long, and that the employee be paid for a meal break taken while working. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Gus

October 2, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I have worked five days over this past three weeks, 3 in the same week, where i worked 8+ hours without a break. Am I to understand from this thread that there is no recourse for me and it is perfectly legal for my employer to continue this practice? And, if i am the only one being scheduled like this does that break some part of the law?

Amelia

October 2, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Hi Gus! Yes, you are correct. Since Pennsylvania has no meal break law, it would be legal for the employer to require you to work 20 hours or more without a meal break. Obviously this is not the best practice in HR, but it is legal in Pennsylvania.

If other employees in the same job are being given meal breaks, then this could be illegal discrimination. De facto discrimination occurs whenever an employee in a protected group has different working conditions than employees in other groups. For example, if you were the only male salesperson, or the only Roman Catholic payroll clerk, or the only Hispanic nurse, and other employees in the same job were given breaks, this would be illegal discrimination based on sex, religion or national origin, respectively. This is true, even if it was not the employers intention to discriminate based on these factors.

However, if all salespeople are required to work without meal breaks, while payroll clerks are given meal breaks, this is legal in Pennsylvania and under federal law. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Emily

March 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Hello i have a question i haven’t seen an answer to online. My employee handbook states that the company follows California standards/policies even though i live in PA. In the handbook it is stated that an employee shall receive a 15 min paid break when working 4 to 5 hours and over 5 hours a 30 min meal break is given off the clock. We were just informed as of Jan 1st that we will not be receiving any 15 min breaks for shifts worked less than the 4.5 hour mark but from what i see online CA requires a 10-15 min break anywhere from 3.5hrs-4 hrs and if no break is given the employee is to be compensated 1hr of pay. (http://www.california-labor-laws-attorneys.com/california-meals-breaks-laws.php)

So my question is am i to have a break or not???

Amelia

March 17, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Hi Emily! The employer establishes company policy, and the employer has the right to change it at any time. The employee handbook is merely a statement of the company policies in effect on the day it is received. It is not a lifetime contract. In this case, employees have been informed that they will no longer be receiving breaks when working a shift of less than 4.5 hours. That is completely legal. The new policy simply replaces the old policy. There is no requirement that the employee handbook be updated, as long as you have been notified of the new policy.

To put it another way, a Pennsylvania employer can follow California employment laws if they want, but there is no law that they must. So no, you are not to have a paid rest break.

If you believe this change in policy is not officially authorized, and is the work of a “rogue” manager, you can certainly lodge a complaint with the HR department or upper management. Otherwise, the employer has the right to change company policy, and it appears they have done so. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~ Amelia

Amy

April 13, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Just started a new job. Breaks are not provided. But I do need to use the bathroom about 2-3 times a day in 11 hrs. My boss is now locking the bathroom door? Is this legal

Amelia

April 14, 2011 at 6:59 am

Hi Amy! OSHA worker safety regulations require that employees be permitted to use the toilet when nature calls. This does not include smoking, making cell phone calls or any other activity that can be conducted in the bathroom — it only includes using the toilet.

It is legal for the employer to lock the restroom. However, the door has to be unlocked (or the key made available) promptly whenever an employee indicates she wants to use the toilet. An employer cannot deny a worker access to the bathroom for more than a couple of minutes. If your employer is violating this regulation, file a formal complaint with OSHA at http://www.osha.gov. If you file a complaint, you are protected from retaliation by the employer. HTH, and thanks for reading the blogs!~Amelia

milca

June 24, 2014 at 9:08 pm

i have been working for my employer for over a year and when i started one of the things offed to me was a 30min paid lunch break..now my employer wants to cut out lunches is that legal in the state of Pennsylvania

Amelia

June 25, 2014 at 11:19 am

If you are over 18 years of age, Milca, this is legal in Pennsylvania. Employers have the right to set workplace policies, and they have the right to change those policies. Assuming that this change affects all the employees (not just you) the employer is doing the right thing by letting you know in advance.

Having said that, it’s probably unrealistic for the employer to expect workers to be productive all day without a meal break. Many employers would still allow a 30 or 60 minute meal break, but simply require employees to clock out for it (if they are relieved of all duties.) Others would allow employees to snack at their desk while still working. It might be wise if you ask your employer to clarify the new policy.

Michelle

November 5, 2014 at 12:57 pm

I just started a job where I’m standing on my feet in one place for 4-5 hours straight and usually not working more then 5.5 hours a day. I see that it is legal for an employer to deny your 10 min paid break, but I guess my question is, When it comes to jobs that require you to stand for long periods at a time as oppose to sitting are the laws different??

Ali

November 8, 2014 at 1:22 pm

Amelia, as an attorney, I have to commend you on your responses. They are very strong and easy to understand. You are providing a great service to employees and employers alike. Keep up the good work.

lisa

November 20, 2014 at 10:44 am

If employer takes breaks away only for 2nd shift and not 1st or 3rd, is this legal? Thanks

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