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Can my employer deny breaks?

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While it may seem like a draconian practice, your employer is legally allowed to deny your ability to take breaks in almost every workplace and circumstance. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, you are only guaranteed a rest period during the workday if you work on a farm, or if you are under the age of 18. However, many laws prohibit employers from taking advantage of you when breaks are in question.

If you are a farmworker or an employee between the ages of 14 and 17, and you are scheduled to work for five or more consecutive hours in a shift, your employer must allow you to have at least one 30-minute break within that time period. In all other workplace situations, your employer is not legally required to offer you break time for resting or eating meals, no matter how long your shift may be. However, most employers today see it as good business to provide their workers with short breaks and time to eat lunch. For this reason, your company may voluntarily offer you break and meal time. If your employer offers breaks, it must pay you for the break if it is no longer than 20 minutes. If your break, whether at meal time or not, lasts longer than 20 minutes, your employer is no longer required to pay you for the time.

If your employer states that a certain hour is designated as a meal period, but still requires you to work while you eat, it cannot refuse to pay you for that time even if it is greater than 20 minutes. However, your right to breaks may be governed by a collective bargaining agreement or employee contract. If you have either, you should become familiar with their terms to determine your rights in your individual situation. This information is meant only for educational purposes and should not be taken as legal advice.