All employers in Pennsylvania – from major corporations to small businesses, human resources directors and workers – should be aware that the state does not have to provide lunch or rest breaks to workers. However, minors and seasonal farm workers are required to have lunch breaks if they work a specific number of hours.
Pennsylvania follows the U.S. Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which states that short breaks (from five to 20 minutes, if a company offers them) are compensable work hours and included in total hours worked per workweek.
Federal Labor Laws Regarding Rest Breaks and Lunches
According to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Fair Labor Standards Act, there is no requirement that employers give workers lunch or rest breaks. But when a company gives short break times (from five to 20 minutes), under federal law they are considered compensable work hours and included in total hours worked per workweek.
Authorized work breaks with unauthorized extensions are not counted as hours worked when a business has communicated to the worker that their authorized break lasts a specific amount of time, that an extension of it goes against the company’s rules, and that the extension will be punished.
Bona Fide Lunch Break Laws
Pennsylvania employers do not have to pay for “bona fide” lunch breaks, which are those where the employer relieves the worker of responsibilities so they can eat. The employer does not need to allow the worker to leave the work site, as long as the worker doesn’t have to work.
Bona fide unpaid breaks last for about 30 minutes, but depending on the circumstances, shorter breaks may qualify.
Pennsylvania Employment Law and Employee Breaks
Some states don't require breaks, but follow the FLSA in requiring employers to pay for short breaks taken during the time the employee works, whether or not they eat while they work. Pennsylvania does not otherwise provide meal or rest breaks to workers; this is at the employer's discretion.
Only employers of seasonal farmworkers must provide breaks. If a seasonal farmworker works more than five hours, they must have a bona fide meal break, but it does not have to be paid. Minors, or children under 18, also get breaks. If they work for more than five hours, they, too, must have at least a 30-minute break.
New Mothers and Break Periods
The FLSA states that employers must provide “reasonable” breaks for nursing mothers who are working for up to a year after a child’s birth, every time they need to express milk.
Companies are required to give breastfeeding mothers “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
This requirement does not preempt that of state laws, if those states provide additional protections to employees. However, Pennsylvania is not one of those states, and follows FLSA guidelines.
Break Location and Time for New Mothers
Employers must provide an appropriate amount of time for the new mother to extract milk as frequently as she needs. How many breaks she needs and how long they will be typically vary.
Under the FLSA, a bathroom – even a private bathroom – is not a suitable location for the new mother to take her break. The location the company provides must function as an area for extracting breast milk. If it is not a dedicated space, it must be made available when the mother needs it.
The FLSA deems a temporary space, whether converted or created, sufficient as long as the space shields the new mother from view and the employer keeps the area free from intrusions.
Coverage and Compensation for New Mothers
Only workers who do not have an exemption from the DOL’s overtime pay requirements are entitled to breaks to extract milk. Companies with less than 50 workers do not have to follow the FLSA’s break requirement for new mothers if complying with the Act would create undue hardship on their business.
This is determined by studying how difficult or expensive it is to comply when comparing a company’s financial resources, nature and size. When determining whether or not an exemption applies, all of the covered employer’s workers are considered, whether they work onsite or elsewhere.
The FLSA does not require employers to pay nursing mothers for these breaks, unless they already provide them with pay. Additionally, as with other types of breaks, the federal law requires that the nursing worker be fully relieved of their responsibilities or get compensation as it applies to work time.
Federal Employer Retaliation Prohibitions
According to FLSA Section 15(a)(3), it is a violation for anyone to discharge or discriminate against a worker who has filed a complaint against an employer for an FLSA violation, who has or will testify against a company for the violation, or who has served or serves on an industry committee. Workers have protection against a company’s retaliation, whether they make their complaint orally or in writing.
Complaints made to the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division are safeguarded, as are internal complaints to the employer. Any worker who is discharged or otherwise discriminated against for making a complaint or for cooperating in a complaint investigation can file a complaint for illegal retaliation with the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.
They also have the option of filing a private cause of action in court to enforce their rights and seek remedies such as lost wages or reinstatement.
- DOL.gov: Breaks and Meal Periods
- ECFR.gov: PART 785 Hours Worked
- PA DEPT of Labor and Industry: General Wage and Hour Questions
- PA DEPT of Education: Pennsylvania Child Labor Law
- DOL.gov: Break Time for Nursing Mothers
- DOL.gov: Fact Sheet # 77A: Prohibiting Retaliation Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- Lawrina.com: What Is Private Right of Action?
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.