Break Time for Nursing Mothers Laws
The federal government and many U.S. states and territories have acknowledged the vital role of breastfeeding in the health and well-being of a mother and her child. In response to the challenges nursing mothers face, these jurisdictions have enacted laws that provide break time for nursing mothers.
See FindLaw's Wage and Hour Laws section for related articles.
Federal Protections for Nursing Mothers
One of the most recent additions to federal law protections for breastfeeding employees is the “Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers" (PUMP) Act. The law mandates that employers provide nursing mothers with reasonable break time. Employers also must provide a place to express milk for a nursing child for one year after the child's birth. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the break time and space requirements if compliance imposes an undue hardship.
President Joe Biden signed the PUMP Act into law in December 2022. The federal statute amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The FLSA is an important workplace and employment law. The lactation accommodation extended existing protections for breastfeeding mothers. Nursing mothers who were hourly workers and entitled to the FLSA's protections have had the right to worksite breastfeeding protections since 2010. However, salaried workers were omitted. This meant that federal breastfeeding laws did not protect about nine million working women. The PUMP Act remedied that omission, extending break time for breastfeeding to salaried workers.
PUMP Act Break and Space Requirements
Under the FLSA, as amended by the PUMP Act, employers must provide nursing employees:
- A private place. An employer may create a temporary space for expressing milk or make a space available when needed. The space doesn't have to be permanent or only for nursing employees. The lactation space must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public. The space cannot be a bathroom or a toilet stall.
- Reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk. Nursing mothers can express breastmilk as often as needed. Historically, employees took unpaid breaks to pump breast milk. This new law does not force employers to pay for such break time. But a nursing mom can use her paid break time for pumping.
- Complete relief of job duties. The employee must be completely relieved of job duties while pumping. If you work during the break, your employer must pay you for the break.
- Break duration. The breastfeeding person must be allowed to take lactation breaks for one year after the birth of a child.
The PUMP Act also applies to remote employees. Telecommuting employees have the same workday protections for breastfeeding as onsite employees. The employer does not have to provide space in the employee's home. But remote workers have the right to be free from observation by any employer-provided or required video system. This can include a security camera or a computer camera.
Employers that monitor a remote employee taking their pump breaks are breaching the law.
Small businesses can qualify for an exemption from the PUMP Act. Employers under 50 employees can claim “undue hardship" for non-compliance. Undue hardship means accommodating causes “significant difficulty or expense" considering the “financial resources, nature, or structure" of the employer's business. Determining undue hardship occurs on a case-by-case basis.
However, employees exempted under federal law may have entitlements to breaks or workspace protections under state or local laws.
Certain employees of airlines, railroads, and motorcoach carriers are exempt from nursing employee protections under the FLSA.
Employees who claim a violation of the PUMP Act can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The Department of Labor offers a fact sheet and frequently asked questions that provide more information.
You can also file a lawsuit against your employer.
Breastfeeding Support in the Workplace
Employers should revise their lactation policy to ensure compliance with the PUMP Act. Many employers go further and create lactation rooms on their worksites in close proximity to employee work areas. This private space should include:
- A locking door
- A comfortable chair
- A small refrigerator
- An electrical outlet
- A clean water supply
State Laws Protecting Nursing Mothers' Rights in the Workplace
Federal law establishes minimum break time for nursing mothers. An employee not covered by the PUMP Act may still be entitled to nursing breaks under local or state laws.
Compared to federal law, state and municipal laws may offer greater protections for a nursing mother's rights in the workplace. Several states have breastfeeding acts on the books, such as New York's break time requirement for nursing mothers law. This law allows breastfeeding individuals to express breast milk for up to three years after the birth of a child. Some states don't provide an exemption for small businesses.
The PUMP Act does not preempt local or state laws that provide greater protections.
How a Lawyer Can Help
The FLSA prohibits an employer from retaliating against a worker who asserts their rights under the FLSA. Employees who file a complaint under federal law or participate in an investigation can't be punished. Several states also prohibit employers from discriminating against nursing mothers.
If you're a nursing mother or an employer and you have questions about a nursing mother's rights in the workplace, consider contacting an experienced employment law attorney to discuss the laws applicable to your situation.
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