Most working people are given time to eat lunch during their workdays. While lunch breaks help to boost morale and increase health, employers are not required to provide them in New Jersey or Pennsylvania. Federal law likewise does not mandate the provision of lunch breaks to employees. While multiple states have enacted laws to govern reasonable lunch breaks, New Jersey and Pennsylvania laws only address lunch breaks for minors. If your employer does offer lunch breaks, whether you will be paid for your break will depend on if you are required to work through it while eating at your desk or if you can clock out and leave the premises. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help you to understand your rights during lunch breaks.
The Fair Labor Standards Act and breaks
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act or FLSA, employers are not required to offer breaks to their employees, including lunch breaks. However, most employers offer unpaid lunch breaks to full-time employees as a matter of course. Most workers should reasonably expect to be provided an unpaid lunch break during their workdays.
Lunch breaks in New Jersey
New Jersey provides limited lunch break protections to minors who are under the age of 18. Under N.J.S.A. § 34:2-21.4, employers in New Jersey must provide workers who are younger than age 18 with a 30-minute lunch break after they work five hours in a row.
For adult workers, New Jersey does not mandate that employers provide any type of breaks, including breaks to eat lunch. Employers who offer breaks of more than 20 minutes are not required to pay their workers for the breaks as long as the workers are free to leave their employer’s premises. They also do not have to pay their workers as long as they take the breaks and do not perform work during them.
Under federal law, breaks of less than 20 minutes must be paid. If you are given a lunch break, it is not considered to be a part of your work time. This means that if you are given an hour lunch break and take it, it will not be included in your total hours worked for the week and will not have to be compensated.
Lunch breaks in Pennsylvania
While several states require employers to give their employees lunch breaks during their shifts, Pennsylvania does not have this type of requirement for adult workers. If you are not given a lunch break while working a long shift, your employer is not violating any laws. If your employer does give lunch breaks, any breaks that last 20 or more minutes may be unpaid.
Employment contracts and collective bargaining agreements
If you have a collective bargaining agreement or an employment contract that calls for meal breaks, your employer must provide them to you. If your employer violates an employment contract or collective bargaining agreement, review the provisions in the agreement to see how a breach should be handled. You might want to talk to your union representative or an employment attorney if your employer has violated a prior agreement to provide lunch breaks.
Workplace culture and lunch breaks
In general, your workplace’s culture will dictate its practices. Some companies might schedule their workers to work from eight to four with an hour lunch while others might schedule their employees to work from eight to five with an hour lunch. If you don’t take lunch and work through it instead, it should be paid by your employer. Your employer can ask you to leave earlier in the day if you do this to account for the additional time. If your supervisor simply lets you work through a lunch break or to eat at your desk while you work, you must be paid for the time. It is also important to note that some workers work different shifts, so any breaks might be at different times other than lunch. If you work a different shift, your employer is only required to pay you for breaks that are shorter than 20 minutes or when you work through breaks of 20 minutes or longer.
Get help from Swartz Swidler
While many people might believe that they are entitled to lunch breaks, the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not mandate them for anyone who is 18 or older. If your employer provides unpaid work breaks but expects you to remain at your desk and work during them, you should be compensated for that time. Contact Swartz Swidler to learn about your rights by calling us at 856.685.7420 or by filling out our online contact form.