Pennsylvania does not have laws regarding breaks or meal periods for most adult workers. In the absence of an overriding federal labor law relating to breaks and meals, employers can offer rest periods as they deem appropriate. If a company decides to offer rest periods, a federal law provides guidelines for whether the employer must pay workers during breaks.
Break Laws for Adults
Adult workers in almost any industry in Pennsylvania do not have the legal right to take breaks during the workday. Unless there is a contract, such as a collective bargaining agreement, that specifies the right to breaks or meal periods, breaks for employees are at the employer's discretion. Additionally, there is no limit to how many consecutive hours an employer can ask employees to work. About 30 states have a similar absence of workday break laws.
Break Laws for Minors
If a worker is between the ages of 14 and 17, she must receive a 30-minute break period after working five consecutive hours, regardless of the industry. The employer does not have to pay the minor for her time during the rest period.
Break Laws for Seasonal Farm Works
Pennsylvania law requires seasonal farm workers to receive a half-hour break after five consecutive hours of labor.
Federal Guidelines for Break Periods
The Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law, does not require employers to offer break periods except in states that have such a law. However, the FLSA sets forth terms that employers must follow if they decide to offer break periods. If the rest period lasts from around five to 20 minutes, the company should continue to pay workers for their time. If the break is more than 20 minutes, the employer can call it a meal period and does not have to pay employees. If an employee is required to stay on site and perform job duties, however, the employer must pay him for the time.
Other Break Rules
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets forth guidelines that allow employees to take bathroom breaks of reasonable length whenever necessary. In addition, workers typically can take time during a shift to practice their religion, or address disabilities or chronic medical issues. Workers should consult with their employer to minimize disruptions in regard to these issues. Employees do not have the right to a smoking break during the work day.