Going back to work after having a baby can be really hard, and it is even harder when you’re nervous about how you’ll manage balancing pumping and work. This is especially true if you’re not sure how your boss will react to your need to take breaks to express milk. Here is what you need to know about pumping at work laws, and how to find out what your employer is required to do.
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(Note: This post is specific to the United States, where women tend to have shorter maternity leaves than elsewhere in the world.)
Federal Pumping at Work Law – “Break Time for Nursing Mothers”
The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law was passed in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act. It requires employers to provide two things for breastfeeding employees that are covered by the law – break time to pump, and a space to pump that is not a bathroom.
“Reasonable” Break Time
The law requires that employers give lactating mothers “reasonable break time” to express breast milk. The law does not define any specifics around what “reasonable” means, but the United States Breastfeeding Committee has some guidance for employers that may be useful.
Employers are not required to compensate you for these breaks. (So if you’re wondering “do I have to clock out to pump at work?” – unfortunately, yes.) However, if your workplace would otherwise give you a compensated break, they still have to compensate you if you choose to use your break to pump (i.e., they can’t treat you differently than anyone else, just because you’re pumping).
A Space to Pump
The other thing that law requires is a place “shielded from view” and “free from intrusion” for a nursing mother to pump. It cannot be a bathroom.
(One would think that this would mean a room (with blinds/no windows) with a lock, but it seems kind of vague. Could an employer put up a curtain in front of your cube with a sign that says “Do Not Intrude,” allowing your cube neighbors to hear your pump in all its glory? I have no idea.)
The lactation space does not need to be a permanent space, and there does not need to be a space designated if there are no currently breastfeeding mothers.
Who Does the Law Apply To?
The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law applies to non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Exempt employees do not qualify. (More details about who is covered are here.) However, employers with under 50 employees can seek an exemption from the law if allowing pumping breaks would cause an “undue burden.”
How long can you legally pump at work? If the law applies to you, your employer needs to provide you with pumping breaks and space as provided in the law until your baby reaches one year of age. (Your state may provide protections for longer.)
What if My Employer Isn’t Complying with the Law?
If the law applies to you and your employer refuses to comply with it, you can contact the Department of Labor at 866-487-9243. More information is available here.
State Pumping at Work Laws May Offer Breastfeeding Mothers More Protection
The pumping at work laws in your state may offer protection in addition to the federal law. If you’re covered by both state and federal law, your employer must meet the provisions of both laws.
To find the law in your state, go to the website for the breastfeeding coalition of your state. Most coalitions have all of the state’s breastfeeding laws listed for you to review.
Here are a few examples of state laws that regulate employers’ obligations for allowing new mothers to pump breast milk.
State Law Example – District of Columbia
The D.C. law protecting the rights of breastfeeding mothers to express milk at work is more expansive than the federal law. It covers all breastfeeding women, not just those that are non-exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Under D.C. law, employers must create a breastfeeding policy and make it available to employees. In addition, there is no restriction as to your baby’s age (unlike the federal law).
State Law Example – Illinois
Illinois, where I live, requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time for breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk for their children for one year. These breaks must be paid.
Additionally, the Illinois law doesn’t distinguish between exempt and non-exempt employees, so everyone is covered. To get an exemption from the law, employers must establish that doing so would cause an “undue hardship.”
Hopefully, your employer will be understanding about your need to pump for your baby, and none of these legal protections will be necessary. However, it’s always good to know your rights.
What to Do BEFORE You Go on Maternity Leave
So now that you know your pumping at work rights, what should you do to prepare? Here are three things that you should do before you go on maternity leave to make sure you’ll be all set to pump at work.
- Come up with a general plan for pumping that fits your work schedule. In a standard 8 hour work day, many women will need to pump about 3 times for 15 minutes each (20-25 minutes including set up and clean up). In some professions, this will be challenging, so figure out what you can reasonably manage.
- Figure out where you’ll be pumping, and request access or a lock or whatever you need.
- Talk to your boss about your plan to balance pumping and working.
Here is a free printable checklist that you can use to make sure you have everything taken care of before you go on maternity leave.
If you’d had an issue with pumping at work and your employer, please share it in the comments!
- U.S. Department of Labor. “Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act – Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision.” https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/Sec7rFLSA_btnm.htm
- U.S. Department of Labor. “Break Time for Working Mothers.” https://www.dol.gov/whd/nursingmothers/
- United States Breastfeeding Committee. “How Much Time is ‘Reasonable’?” https://www.usbreastfeeding.org/p/cm/ld/fid=240
- D.C. Health. “Breastfeeding in the Workplace.” https://dchealth.dc.gov/service/breastfeeding-workplace
- Employment Law Lookout. “Illinois Law Suddenly Requires Paid Nursing Breaks.” https://www.laborandemploymentlawcounsel.com/2018/08/illinois-law-suddenly-requires-paid-nursing-breaks/