Pennsylvania Labor Laws: A Complete Guide to Wages, Breaks, Overtime, and More (2024)

In this article, we’ll dive deep into Pennsylvania’s labor laws, with details on all the important aspects of the state’s regulations on your employees.

Pennsylvania follows a comprehensive set of labor laws, governing the employer-employee relationship, ensuring fairness, and clearly defining the rights and responsibilities of both parties. These laws cover every aspect of employment in the state, from wages and breaks to overtime and safety, safeguarding the interests of all involved.

For employers in Pennsylvania, particularly in the construction sector, understanding and navigating state-specific labor laws and federal regulations is crucial. As part of a 50-state series, this article aims to demystify Pennsylvania’s labor laws, offering employers and employees valuable insights into their rights and responsibilities within the Keystone State.

Meals and Breaks in Pennsylvania

Over half of American workers often skip lunch, with many (about 39%) opting to eat at their desks due to workload.

Pennsylvania regulates meal and break times with a combination of state-specific rules and federal guidelines.

Federal Law

In the absence of state-specific legislation, Pennsylvania defers to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for guidance on meal and break times. Under FLSA:

If an employer offers short breaks (typically 5 to 20 minutes), these breaks must be compensated. These are considered part of the employee’s work hours and are factored into their total hours worked each wee​​k.

Meal breaks, which usually last 30 minutes or more, don’t have to be compensated in Pennsylvania if employees are relieved of all work duties during these times. If employees are required to perform any duties, even minimal ones, their meal break must be pai​​d.

Other Considerations

  • Industry-Specific Standards: Certain industries may have additional regulations or standards regarding break times, so employers should understand any sector-specific requirements that may apply.
  • Employment Contracts and Agreements: Individual employment or collective bargaining agreements might contain specific meal and rest break provisions. Employers and employees should review these documents carefully to understand any applicable stipulations.

State-Specific Regulations for Minors

Pennsylvania law mandates that minors aged 14 to 17 must receive a 30-minute meal or rest period if they’ve worked five or more continuous hours.

Leave and Paid Time Off (PTO) in Pennsylvania

Balancing work and life is crucial, yet many American workers often struggle to take time off due to workload or workplace policies.

Statewide Leave Laws

Pennsylvania does not mandate employee leave, including paid vacation or sick leave, for adult employees.

However, employers should be aware of specific local laws, particularly in regions like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Allegheny County, which have their own employee leave regulation​​.

Federal Leave Laws (FMLA)

Businesses must adhere to federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requirements, which allow eligible employees to take unpaid leave for specific family and medical reasons without fear of losing their job. Under FMLA, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year.

Jury Duty and Military Leave

Pennsylvania requires employers to provide unpaid leave for employees to fulfill jury duty – private employers are not obligated to pay employees for work absences due to jury duty or court appearances.

Pennsylvania also ensures unpaid military leave for eligible employees, ensuring job protection for National Guard and/or Reserve servicemembers​​.

Organ Donor Leave

The Pennsylvania Living Donor Protection Act requires employers to provide leave for organ or tissue donors, including preparation and recovery time for the donation surgery.

Donor leave in Pennsylvania applies to employees who work for any FMLA-covered employer (50 or more employees) who have met certain employment duration and hour requirements​​.

Philadelphia Sick Leave Laws

In Philadelphia, businesses must offer paid or unpaid sick leave depending on their size.

Eligible employees can accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year. Employers are required to provide this leave for employees’ health needs, care of a family member, or absences due to domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking. Employers must also inform employees about their sick leave rights and maintain records of sick leave​​.

Understanding these varied leave laws is essential for employers in Pennsylvania, especially those in the construction industry, to ensure compliance and maintain a supportive work environment. It’s also important to keep abreast of any local regulations that may affect leave policies in specific areas of the state.

Overtime Regulations in Pennsylvania

Understanding overtime regulations is crucial for businesses, especially in industries with fluctuating work hours like construction, where managing labor costs effectively is key to operational success.

Overtime pay in Pennsylvania conforms with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and state minimum wage laws (which we’ll cover in detail a bit further in this article). Eligible employees are entitled to 1.5 times their regular pay rate for all hours worked over 40 in a workweek.

Calculation of Overtime Pay

Calculating overtime in Pennsylvania depends on an employee’s ‘regular rate of pay.’ which is typically an employee’s standard hourly wage. However, if an employee’s hourly rate changes during a pay period in which they earn overtime, their overtime rate will based on the average of these hourly rates. Some types of payments are not factored into this regular rate, such as:

  • Gifts and discretionary bonuses
  • Payments for times when no work is performed (PTO for vacations or illnesses)
  • Reimbursements for travel or other expenses
  • Payments from certain profit-sharing or savings plans

By excluding these from the ‘regular rate,’ overtime calculations focus solely on the typical earnings from hours worked.

Eligibility for Overtime Pay

Most employees in Pennsylvania are eligible for overtime. Exemptions include executive, administrative, and professional employees (white-collar workers) who meet specific criteria and salary threshold​​. However, even ‘exempt’ employees earning less than $684 per week ($35,568 per year) are eligible for overtime pay. 

Special Rules for Tipped Employees

Pennsylvania laws also cover tipped employees’ overtime pay.

If a tipped employee earns at least $135 monthly in tips, they’re considered exempt from the standard overtime rates. This is coupled with the 80/20 rule, which stipulates that qualifying for this exemption requires these employees to spend no more than 20% of their workweek on tasks that don’t generate tips.

Alternate Work Schedules (AWS) and Overtime

Some Pennsylvania employees may work on Alternate Work Schedules (AWS), which allow for a compressed workweek. Employees on AWS are eligible for overtime when they work beyond their scheduled daily hours or more than 40 hours in a workweek. However, hours worked on an AWS off day are not eligible for overtime.

Additional Overtime Exemptions

Specific occupations are exempt from Pennsylvania’s overtime rates, including farm laborers, seamen, domestic service workers, taxi drivers, certain salespeople, and specific workers in public amusement or recreational establishments, among others.

Practical Implications for Businesses

Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not set a daily limit on work hours to trigger overtime pay, which is calculated based solely on cumulative hours worked beyond 40 each week.

For businesses, particularly those in construction, it’s vital to keep accurate records of work hours to ensure compliance with overtime regulations and avoid labor law penalties.

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Wages and Benefits in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s state minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which is the federal minimum wage. This rate applies to most employees in Pennsylvania, with limited exceptions such as tipped employees, certain student workers, and other exempt occupations. Special certificates can be issued to pay learners, students, or certain disabled employees sub-minimum wages under specific conditions​​.

Tipped Minimum Wage

The tipped minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $2.83 per hour. Employees qualify as tipped employees if they spend no more than 20% of their workweek on duties not directly involved in generating tips​​ – for example, folding napkins or refilling salt shakers.

Frequency of Wage Payments

Employers in Pennsylvania generally must pay employees at least semi-monthly unless stipulated otherwise in a contract.

The first wage payment must be made between the first and fifteenth days of each month and the second payment between the fifteenth and the last day of the month. All wages earned in any pay period must be paid within a certain number of days after the expiration of the applicable pay period as provided by a written contract, within the standard time lapse customary in the trade, or within 15 days of the end of the pay period​​.

Methods of Wage Payments

Employers in Pennsylvania may pay wages by cash, check, direct deposit, or payroll card. The employee’s written consent is required for direct deposit and payroll card payments, and all terms and conditions for such payments must be explicated in writing. Employers must provide a separate written record of each deposit when or before the deposit clears.

Payment upon Separation from Employment

When an employee is discharged, quits, resigns, or is laid off, their employer must pay all wages due no later than the next regular payday on which the wages would have been paid if employment had continued. Wages must be sent by mail if requested by the employee​​.

Mandatory and Optional Benefits

Pennsylvania does not have any statewide laws governing paid vacation or sick leave for adult employees, but many employers choose to offer these benefits to attract better candidates.  However, employers must comply with federal leave laws, like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for eligible employees. Employers in certain localities, like Philadelphia, are subject to specific local leave laws.

Prevailing Wages in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, prevailing wage laws cover public works projects. These laws ensure that workers on projects funded by public money are paid wages comparable to the local standards in the construction industry. 

Prevailing wages apply to construction, reconstruction, demolition, alteration, or repair work worth more than $25,000 and employing qualified laborers, mechanics, skilled and semi-skilled laborers, and/or apprentices​​.

Determination of Prevailing Wages

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, through the Bureau of Labor Law Compliance, determines prevailing wage rates in the states. These rates are set for specific localities and classifications. They may be influenced by collective bargaining agreements and other factors, such as wage rates paid on similar projects in the locality​​.

Resources for Employers

Employers involved in public works projects can find current prevailing wage rates through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s online application and rate search tool​​.

Hiring Practices in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the hiring process, including job postings and interviews, must comply with various anti-discrimination laws.

Employers must ensure their hiring practices do not discriminate based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, non-job related handicap or disability, or using a guide or support animal. This compliance is governed by federal laws and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), which applies to employers with four or more employees​​.

“Ban the Box” Law

Under Pennsylvania’s “Ban the Box” law, employers are allowed to request a criminal history record of a candidate in the pre-hire process, but only when it’s relevant to the job’s suitability. This includes information about arrests and convictions within the last three years and certain older or pending arrests and convictions.

In Philadelphia, specific “Ban the Box” regulations restrict employers from asking about arrests or criminal accusations that did not result in a conviction​​.

Immigration and Employment Eligibility

Federal law mandates that all employees hired must be legally authorized to work in the U.S. While private employers in Pennsylvania generally aren’t required to participate in E-Verify for employment eligibility verification, it’s mandatory for those with public workers, contractors, subcontractors, employers hiring F-1 students seeking a STEM OPT extension, and in the construction industry​​.

Drug Testing Policies

Pennsylvania has no comprehensive state law regulating drug or alcohol testing by private employers. However, employers must be aware of the state’s Medical Marijuana Act, which prohibits discrimination against employees licensed to use medical marijuana.

Employers can require accommodations for the use of medical marijuana and enforce disciplinary action for conduct that doesn’t adhere to company policies​​.

Health and Safety Standards in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the General Safety Law (No.174, P.L.654) mandates protections for the health, safety, and welfare of persons employed in various settings. This law covers a wide range of employee safety issues, including the safe operation of machinery, removal of harmful manufacturing byproducts, and safe construction and maintenance of work environments​​.

Federal OSHA Regulations

While the General Safety Law applies to public sector employees, private sector employees are governed by federal OSHA regulations. Employers in the construction industry must ensure compliance with OSHA standards to provide safe working conditions and prevent workplace accidents.

Reporting Unsafe Conditions

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has a complaint investigation process for reporting unsafe working conditions. Complaints can be submitted via email, fax, or mail using the General Safety Law Complaint Form.

Child Labor Laws in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, minors under 18 must obtain an Employment Certificate, commonly known as a Work Permit, before they can be employed. These certificates can be acquired through their school, usually by contacting a guidance counselor or school administrator. The certificate verifies the minor’s eligibility to work according to the state’s criteria​​.

Working Hour Restrictions

Minors in Pennsylvania have restrictions on their working hours based on age, to ensure their education isn’t disrupted:

  • Under 16: Allowed to work up to 8 hours per day and 44 hours per week when school is not in session. During school weeks, they can work up to 4 hours on school days (and up to 8 on non-school days), with a weekly limit of 18 hours.
  • 16 and 17: Permitted to work up to 8 hours per day and 44 hours per week, 6 days a week. During school weeks, if enrolled in regular day school, they can work a maximum of 28 hours​​.

Night Work Restrictions

Night work restrictions also apply:

  • Under 16: Work is prohibited between 7 p.m. (or 10 p.m. from June to Labor Day) and 7 a.m.
  • 16 and 17: Cannot work between midnight (or 1 a.m. before a non-school day) and 6 a.m. if enrolled in regular day school​​.

Industry-Specific Regulations

There are specific regulations for employing minors in certain industries, such as agriculture and the entertainment industry. These rules cover farm work, harvesting, and roles for child actors, models, and performers​​.

Employee Termination and Resignation in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has been an at-will employment state since 1891.

This means an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason (or for no reason at all), and similarly, employees may resign at any time, for any reason, without notice. However, this doctrine is not absolute and is subject to various exceptions and legal constraints​​.

Exceptions to At-Will Employment

There are several state and federal statutes that protect employees from being discharged for specific reasons. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, among others​​.

Public Policy Wrongful Discharge Claims

An employee may claim wrongful discharge under public policy if they can demonstrate a violation of public policy expressed in the constitution, legislation, administrative regulations, or judicial decisions.

Courts have recognized wrongful discharge claims where an employee was fired for refusing to perform an illegal act, reporting illegal activity, or in retaliation for filing an unemployment compensation claim. However, even if public policy is threatened, an employer may still discharge an employee if they have a separate, plausible, and legitimate reason.

Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania

According to Moody’s, every dollar spent on unemployment insurance generates approximately $1.55 in new economic activity.

Eligibility and Application Process

In Pennsylvania, Unemployment Compensation (UC) is available to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. To qualify, an applicant must have earned sufficient wages and credit weeks in employment covered by the Pennsylvania UC Law.

Not all forms of labor are covered by unemployment compensation; for example, agricultural labor and domestic services in private homes are exempt. 

Employer Responsibilities

Employers contribute to the UC system through quarterly tax payments. All businesses employing workers in Pennsylvania must register with the state, and every employee and their wages must be accurately reported.

Employers failing to comply with these regulations can face severe consequences, including penalties for underreporting or misrepresenting employee information, or aiding in fraudulent claims​​.


If a claimant misrepresents facts to obtain UC benefits, they will be responsible for repaying the overpaid amount, plus interest.

There are also legal consequences, including potential fines of up to $1,000 or imprisonment for up to 30 days for each false statement or failure to disclose essential informatio​​n.

Penalties for Noncompliance in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, adherence to labor laws is critical to maintaining fair business practices and protecting workers’ rights. Noncompliance can lead to various penalties, depending on the nature and severity of the violation. 

Common labor law violations include wage theft, discrimination in the workplace, employee misclassification, and lack of safety measures​​.

Key Pennsylvania Labor Laws with Penalties

Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (PMWA)

 Employers who pay less than the minimum wage may face fines ranging from $75 to $300 or imprisonment for 10 to 60 days, or both. Each week of underpayment and each underpaid employee are considered separate offenses​​.

FLSA Overtime Law

Violations of overtime pay laws can incur civil penalties of up to $1,000 per violation. Willful violations can lead to criminal prosecution, with fines up to $10,000 and possible imprisonment on a second conviction​​.

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Noncompliance may result in legal action by the US Department of Labor. Employers may be required to grant FMLA leave and provide monetary damages, including attorney fees and court costs​​.

Child Labor Act

Violating this act can result in fines up to $400 for a first offense and between $750 and $1,500 for a second offense. Severe violations involving danger to minors can lead to higher penalties and potential jail terms​​.

Construction Workplace Misclassification Act (Act 72)

Criminal and administrative penalties apply to employers who misclassify workers, with fines up to $1,000 for negligent misclassification and up to $2,500 for subsequent violations​​.

Sexual Harassment Laws

Violations can lead to disciplinary actions like warnings, required training, demotions, salary reductions, suspensions, or terminations​​.

Whistleblower Law

Retaliation against whistleblowers can result in financial compensation claims, including lost wages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and legal expenses​​.

Recordkeeping Laws

Intentional violation of recordkeeping requirements may lead to fines between $50 and $200, or imprisonment for 30 to 60 days. Each day of noncompliance is considered a separate violation​​.

Reporting Violations and Enforcement

Violations can be reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Bureau of Labor Law Compliance. In severe or repeated cases, the Department has the authority to take legal action, including seeking a court order to close the business until the violations are resolved​​.

The amount of penalties is determined based on factors like the nature of the violation, the employer’s history of violations, the number of affected employees, and the employer’s cooperation (or lack thereof) during the investigation​​.

For construction businesses in Pennsylvania, understanding and complying with these labor laws is vital to avoid penalties and foster a safe and fair working environment.

Other Essential Information About Labor Laws in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania has other state-specific labor laws and regulations that employers and employees, especially in the construction industry, should be aware of:

Pennsylvania Hiring Laws

Employers must report new hires or rehires within 20 days, including their full legal name, address, Social Security Number, and date of hire, among other details​​.

Pennsylvania Discrimination Law

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA) prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, non-job related handicap or disability, and other protected categories​​.

Leave Laws

These include city-specific sick leave laws in Philadelphia and Allegheny County, as well as provisions for domestic or sexual violence leave in Philadelphia. There are also state-wide requirements for military leave and organ donor leave​​​​.

Personal Information Protection

The Pennsylvania Breach of Personal Information Notification Act mandates employers to safeguard employees’ personal data and notify them of any security breaches involving their personal information​​.

The Bottom Line on Pennsylvania Labor Laws

Understanding Pennsylvania’s labor laws is crucial for both employers and employees in ensuring a compliant and equitable workplace. Employers should stay up-to-date on these laws to fulfill their obligations and support a fair work environment. Employees should also be aware of their rights, contributing to a respectful and harmonious workplace.

Noncompliance with these labor laws can lead to severe penalties, including fines and jail terms. Therefore, it is important to stay informed to remain compliant.

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