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Workplace Breastmilk Pumping Laws

Aug17

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Bounce Back ArchivesIf you’re a nursing mother returning to work after maternity leave, does your workplace have any obligation to give you pumping breaks? If so, how many? How long? Can they dock your pay or make you note the breaks on your timesheet? Can they tell you to use the bathroom or must they provide you with an alternative? Does it make a difference if you’re paid by the hour or salaried; if you’re part-time or full-time?

The answers to these questions? A confusing jumble of yes and no and I don’t know and a whole lot of maybe.

When health care reform was passed this year, a small provision for nursing mothers was included:

Among many provisions, Section 4207 of the law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.Code 207) to require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk. The employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose. The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk. If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs less than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. Furthermore, these requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.

So, from a federal-protection standpoint: Yes, your employer is required to give you “reasonable break time” for pumping, depending on your individual needs and schedule. No, they cannot tell you to pump in the bathroom. Your employer is not obligated pay you for time spent pumping, or to allow pumping breaks after your baby is a year old. If your workplace is smaller than 50 employees or if your employer can prove that your breaks impose “undue hardship,” they do not have to provide you with any accommodations.

So, hardly comprehensive — an employer doesn’t have to actually give a woman any place to STORE her expressed milk, for example, and it’s fuzzy as to what “unpaid pumping breaks” mean for a salaried worker. But it’s a good baseline, I think, for women possibly dealing with unsupportive, old-fashioned workplaces, as opposed to women (like me) who returned to pretty reasonable offices that were happy to negotiate a personalized arrangement with employees. (I asked for a lock on my door and got it. I already had access to a refrigerator. In return, I generally didn’t demand “set” pumping times, but worked around the schedule each day as it worked for me, and simply asked for flexibility around last-minute meetings in case I needed a pumping break right then. I never had to note my breaks on a timesheet or anything, but this seemed like a fair trade because I was not paid overtime, despite almost always working more than 40 hours every week.)

This federal provision mostly benefits women in states that have yet to pass their OWN laws about pumping in the workplace, basically forcing the rest of the country to catch the hell up with the breastfeeding times. While 44 states have passed laws about breastfeeding in public, only 24 (plus D.C. and Puerto Rico) have pumping/workplace laws.

If you live in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington or Wyoming…congratulations! Your state also provides you with protection and rights — possibly even above and beyond (or at least more specific than) the federal provision. (Most are pretty similar, though.)

This page has pretty much everything you need to know about your state’s specific laws and protections, be it nursing in public or pumping at work. Read it. Print it. Love it. (Even I didn’t know that my state exempts the sale of any and all breastfeeding supplies from sales tax. Huh!) (And yet…they never passed a workplace protection law. Hmm!)

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About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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11 Responses to “Workplace Breastmilk Pumping Laws”

  1. Dawn Aug 17 at 3:53 pm Reply Reply

    My workplace doesn’t have a ‘lactation room’ (or anything really – I work in a manufacturing plant)so the first 3-4 months back I pumped in the women’s locker room. There was a couch…and an outlet. And as long as no one turned off the lights on me it was fine. Then my office mate was let go and I’ve been pumping in my office ever since. The door is always locked so when it’s closed, no way is anyone going to try to walk in on me. Though almost a year later, they still haven’t figured out why my door is closed 3 times a day. I’m salaried but the being paid isn’t an issue since I’m pumping at my desk, I can do work! Oh yippee!

  2. Molly Aug 18 at 11:14 am Reply Reply

    Regarding “If your workplace is smaller than 50 employees or if your employer can prove that your breaks impose “undue hardship,” they do not have to provide you with any accommodations” –

    I work for an employee benefits consultant and my job is compliance research, so I’m actually pretty familiar with this provision of the health care reform bill. I’m not a lawyer (disclaimer!), but I wanted to point out that the hardship exemption only applies if the employer has fewer than 50 employees AND it would impose undue hardship. In other words, just having fewer than 50 employees doesn’t automatically exempt them from complying.

    As Amy pointed out, this law is kind of squishy, and some of our clients have had questions about proving “undue hardship.” The bill describes it as “causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” This still isn’t clear – what is “significant difficulty or expense?” However, the attorneys that we work with have indicated that the burden of proof would be on the employer and that until further guidance is issued, employers should tread lightly if they want to claim the hardship exemption. 

    So ladies – if your employer is claiming hardship, you might want to keep pressing them if their stance seems unreasonable.  

  3. Jenny Aug 18 at 11:15 am Reply Reply

    I realize how lucky I am to work for one of the country’s largest public universities. There are several nursing rooms on campus which have low lighting and lots of comfy chairs. They also provide a refrigerator for storage AND a pump. Yes, each woman can have her own breast pump so you don’t have to cart yours from home every day. They replace all the required parts before a new mother uses it. They also have two lactation consultants on staff who will come to your home and come to see you on campus. I know I’m lucky – just thought I’d share my experience.

  4. Isabel Aug 18 at 12:09 pm Reply Reply

    Oh, this is very informative. I had no idea about some of these laws. And, apparently, I shouldn’t have to pump in the bathroom. Which is what I do.

    Gross!

  5. Anna Aug 19 at 11:49 am Reply Reply

    I did not have to go to work when I had my twins, but they were in the NICU for 5 weeks. The pumping room was apart from the NICU and had a terribly uncomfortable chair. The pumping room for hospital staff was better, but it was always hit or miss if someone else was using it.

    The best thing that helped me survive those weeks of pumping was a hands-free pumping bra.

    I would hook up my Medela pump, toss a jacket over myself while I attached the pump and then I could pull back down my shirt and pump by their incubators. It would work in an office setting job, too. You get more privacy and you can still sit at your desk.

    I never used it, but there is also a hand free pump called the Freemie. It hides inside your bra and stores the milk in what looks like a breast shaped container.  You Tube Video of the Freemie.

    I wish all employers gave paid breaks and a room to pump since obviously not everyone has access to an office. Maybe these ideas will keep you from pumping in the restroom – yuck!  :)

    Also, breast milk is not a biohazards material and can be stored, without labeling, anywhere that food and drink are allowed to be stored. You certainly shouldn’t have to explain keeping your milk in the company fridge! The CDC site confirms this statement.

  6. Tracy Aug 23 at 2:08 pm Reply Reply

    “it’s fuzzy as to what “unpaid pumping breaks” mean for a salaried worker”

    If you’re talking about the statement in the law that says “The employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose,” I wonder if it means you are expected to use your existing breaks for pumping, and you don’t get to take an extra break. (I work for the gummint and I’m legally entitled to two breaks a day… I don’t know how this would work in the private sector).

  7. Wallydraigle Aug 31 at 2:57 pm Reply Reply

    Did I miss something? Is there no more Bounce Back? Or is it just on hiatus?

  8. Hil Aug 31 at 5:23 pm Reply Reply

    I was wondering the same thing… I hope it comes back!

  9. lori Sep 19 at 3:04 pm Reply Reply

    what about a public school teacher pumping in a room that is open and unlocked with coworkers in it and students can pop in anytime?  

  10. Michelle Sep 20 at 11:40 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a public school teacher and basically could use the bathroom (gross), the room in the nurse’s office where they check for lice (double gross) or my classroom where I did most of the time.  Of course I could only do it when the kids were at lunch or specials and those were pretty much the only times provided to me (aka no breaks other than the ones built into my predetermined schedule.) naturally, my supply diminished because my break times were back to back so I pretty much only had one chance to pump throughout the day. 

  11. Ashley Jun 20 at 11:22 am Reply Reply

    I am in Indiana and my workplace does provide a place for me to pump but it is filthy. When I tried to use the only clean room in the place that is private I was told the pharmacist does not want it used for pumping. What do I do?

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