There’s a lack of consensus on how or if hourly employees should be paid for taking breaks during the work day; however, a federal court in Pennsylvania recently made a decision that could clarify things. Ruling on a case in Malvern, the court decided that if an employee takes a break that lasts less than 20 minutes, employers are obligated to pay them. For breaks lasting longer than 20 minutes, employers are not compelled to pay. “The rationale behind paying for short breaks is that the break period is principally for the benefit of the employer,” said Mike Pavlick, a labor and employment law specialist. “There’s a recognition that short breaks help keep the employee fresh and focused. In the Pennsylvania case, the decision was made concerning a publishing company that required all workers to log any time not working, which they would not be paid for. These breaks included using the restroom or stepping outside to make a phone call. The 20-minute demarcation is important, says Pavlick, because employees can’t use the time for non-work-related activities. “The employee is not able to use the short breaks to their own benefit. There’s not enough time to run an errand, go to the store or eat a meal,” he said. “With a 30-minute break, the worker could get a haircut, go to a doctor’s appointment or eat lunch. But less than 20 minutes is simply a brief respite from the work they perform.”