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My Employer Keeps Deducting Breaks That I Didn’t Take; What Should I Do Now?

October 23, 2015 Wage Theft & Unpaid Wages

What Pennsylvania law says about hourly employees’ rights to meal breaks

Have you ever felt like you’re not getting paid for all of the hours you’ve worked?

If so, you’re not alone. One of the most common complaints we hear related to compensation involves breaks. That is, that hourly employees see paycheck deductions for meal breaks that they never got to take.

Often the trouble starts when an employer uses a payroll system that automatically deducts 30 minutes for meal breaks for each shift worked.

If that happens every day, it can mean that some workers are putting in an additional 2.5 work hours per week without being compensated for the time.

In the worst-case scenarios, that can add up to 130 hours per year, or a total of 3.25 weeks of lost wages every year.

Obviously, this is a problem with a high price tag for hourly employees.

What You’re Entitled To

Believe it or not, neither federal nor Pennsylvania law guarantee most hourly employees any specific breaks, for meals or otherwise.

Pennsylvania law has exceptions only for farmworkers and minors (age 14-17), who must be given 30-minute breaks after every five consecutive hours of work. Those breaks may be paid or unpaid.

However, federal and state laws allow employers to offer rest or meal breaks to their employees if they choose to. Obviously, many companies opt to do this. It only makes sense that people will be more efficient at their jobs if they’re not skipping meals.

But even though offering breaks is left largely up to employers’ discretion, how they handle those breaks is not.

Paid v. Unpaid Breaks

According to Pennsylvania law, breaks of less than 20 minutes must be compensated. So if you’re given less than 20 minutes for a meal break, your employer is required to pay you for that time.

Of course, many people are given 30 minutes for meal breaks. That time is not required to be compensated, as long as work stops completely during that period.

That means that if you’re required to answer the phone, wait for deliveries, monitor a piece of machinery, or perform any other work task during a meal break, then you’re legally entitled to compensation for that time.

Remember: Many employers count on the fact that workers don’t know their rights. Unfortunately, confusing explanations or overly burdensome procedures to correct your work hours may be an attempt to get you to leave money on the table.

Call Us for a Free Consultation

If you been a victim of wage theft related to meal breaks or other issues, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney who has experience navigating Pennsylvania and U.S. wage and hour laws.

Email us at, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.