Image courtesy of Roberto Delgado Webb
What laws protect women who pump at work?
Each state has the right to create their own legislation around pumping at work, but they are required to meet or exceed the federal standard set in section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk.”
The law also states that employers are required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
In layman’s terms: For at least a year after you give birth, your employer has to provide you time and a private place, that is not a bathroom, for pumping at work.
Exceptions to the rule
Not all businesses are covered by the FSLA. In broad terms, businesses that do less than $500,000 in business annually are not covered. If you have more questions about the types of businesses that aren’t covered, check out the Department of Labor’s Employment Law Guide.
It’s also important to note that if your employer isn’t covered by the FSLA, it might have to adhere to state legislation about pumping at work. Twenty-three states, plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., have specific laws on pumping at work.
If you work for a company that has fewer than 50 employees, they may not be required to provide you with time to pump breast milk at work even if they are covered by the FSLA if they can prove it would impose “undue hardship” on the business.
This list of FAQs about Break Time for Nursing Mothers has more information on the law.
Are pumping breaks paid?
Pumping breaks aren’t necessarily paid. If you work somewhere with paid breaks, you can use those breaks to pump while you’re still on the clock. If you don’t have paid breaks, the time you spend pumping at work is likely to be unpaid.
What does the employer have to provide in terms of time and facilities?
The FSLA doesn’t give a specific number of minutes or certain number of breaks that you are entitled to for pumping at work. Ideally, you and your employer would work together to determine what “reasonable” means for you and your workplace.
Thanks to the FSLA you will not be expected to pump in the bathroom (*raise the roof emoji*). That being said, the law doesn’t specify that a pumping room has to be comfortable or even clean, just private. Try to take a peek at the space before you head out on maternity leave. If it’s not clean, ask your supervisor or even the custodial staff if they could have it cleaned up before you’re back at work.
It could also be helpful, if you feel comfortable, to ask the other parents who’ve had to pump at the office for their tips and tricks to creating a peaceful space for pumping at work. If you are the first pumping mama at your job, ask if your designated pumping space can be personalized or equipped to better meet your needs.
What should you do if you think your rights have been violated?
If your employer has not provided you with a private place and adequate time for pumping at work, they are in violation of a federal law. While that is serious, it might be as simple as shooting your boss an email or having a quick conversation about what your needs—and rights—are. But, if your employer willfully ignores your legal right to pump at work, you can file a confidential complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, which can lead to an investigation of your employer.