Legal Requirements for Breaks, Meal Periods and Overtime

June 24, 2008

We have tackled a number of complex employment topics in our blog. Recently, feedback and questions have led us to "go back to the basics" and visit the topic of General Wage and Hour.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry attempts to answer many questions about wages and hours in the FAQs section of their website. While the Department of Labor and Industry’s site isn’t an all inclusive legal resource, it does provide cursory answers to the questions asked most regularly.

  • What is my legal responsibility to employees regarding breaks and meal periods?

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry states, "Pennsylvania employers are not required to provide breaks to employees age 18 and over.  If the employer permits break periods, and they last less than 20 minutes, the employee must be paid for the break.  If the employer allows meal periods, the employer is not required to pay the employee if the employee does not work during the meal period and it lasts more than 20 minutes.  Employers and employees may agree to different terms of the employment is governed by a collective bargaining agreement."

  • Am I required to pay overtime wages, if so, to whom and who is excluded?

The laws and rules surrounding overtime are governed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.   The Act requires employers to pay employees one and half times their regular rate for all hours worked over 40 in a week.  However exemptions to the general rule exist.  An article featured on, Who’s Exempt From Overtime by Nancy Cooper, provides guidelines on properly classifying an employee. In some cases it is difficult to make the proper determination and it would be advisable to consult an attorney.