Going back to work after having a baby can be hard, and it can be even more challenging when you’re nervous about how you’ll manage pumping at work. 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 employees tend to have shorter maternity leaves than elsewhere in the world.)
You may have legal protections under federal law and/or state law. If you are covered by more than one law, your employer must comply with both.
For example, if federal law requires your employer to provide you with a place to pump for one year and your state law requires this for two years, your employer would need to provide the space for two years to meet both requirements.
Let’s start with federal laws.
Federal pumping at work law – Break Time for Nursing Mothers
It requires employers to provide two things for any breastfeeding employee covered by the law:
- Break time to pump, and
- A space to pump that is not a bathroom.
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 – usually this means salaried workers – do not qualify. (More details about who is covered are here.)
Employers with under 50 employees can seek an exemption from the law if allowing pumping breaks would cause an “undue burden.”
The law applies to covered employees until their baby reaches one year of age.
“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 pay 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.
For example, if your company provides 30 minute paid lunch breaks, and you choose to pump during your lunch break, your company must compensate you the same as they do other employees.
Location to pump
The other thing that the law requires is a place “shielded from view” and “free from intrusion” for a nursing mother to pump. It cannot be a bathroom.
The lactation space does not need to be a permanent space, and there does not need to be a space designated if there are currently no breastfeeding employees.
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.
PUMP (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections) for Nursing Mothers Act
In October 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PUMP Act. If passed by the Senate and signed by the President, this bill would:
- Cover non-exempt employees (salaried workers that are not covered by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provisions).
- Require employers to pay employees for time spent pumping if they are working while they pump (for example, with a hands-free pump or while working on a laptop in the lactation room).
- Extend the time that employees are protected from one to two years.
- Allow employers 10 days to come into compliance with the law after they are been notified that they are not.
State pumping at work laws
The pumping at work laws in your state may offer protection in addition to the federal law. Again, 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 is an example.
State Law Example – Illinois
Illinois, where I live, also 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.
The Illinois law doesn’t distinguish between exempt and non-exempt employees, so everyone is covered.
Employers must make “reasonable efforts” to provide a private location for employees to pump, other than a toilet stall.
So in the case of my state, there are more protections for breaks – everyone is covered, and the breaks have to be paid – but fewer for the space to pump. (“Undue hardship” is an arguably higher burden than “reasonable effort,” and a private bathroom that is not a toilet stall could be interpreted as acceptable under Illinois law but not federal law.)
An employee covered by the federal and Illinois state law would be entitled to protections under both laws:
- Reasonable, paid breaks from the Illinois law, and
- A location that is shielded from view and free from intrusion that is not a bathroom under the federal law.
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 (if possible) 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 people 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. More on this here.
- Figure out where you’ll be pumping, and request access or a lock or whatever you need.
- Talk to your manager about your plan to balance pumping and working.
Can you pump at work if you don’t have legal protections?
It may be worth talking to your manager and seeing if they will allow you to take the pumping breaks that you need, even if you’re not covered by any applicable laws.
However, if breaks are not an option, here are some ideas about how to make pumping at work happen.
If you’d had an issue with pumping at work and your employer, please share it in the comments!
Nervous about pumping at work? Want help building your freezer stash, creating a packing checklist, and putting together a pumping schedule? Check out my Ultimate Pumping at Work Workbook here! Use EPUMP30 for 30% off.References
- Employment Law Lookout. “Illinois Law Suddenly Requires Paid Nursing Breaks.” https://www.laborandemploymentlawcounsel.com/2018/08/illinois-law-suddenly-requires-paid-nursing-breaks/
- GovTrack. “H.R. 3110: PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.” https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/117/hr3110/summary
- Illinois General Assembly. “Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act.” https://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=2429&ChapterID=68
- 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