Workplace Breastmilk Pumping Laws
Know your rights, ladies, and what still needs to be done.
If 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!)