Breastfeeding at Work: What Employers Need to Know

Did you know that since 2010, women have had federal rights to continue breastfeeding once they returned to work? Here are the most commonly asked questions and answers employers have had regarding accommodations for nursing moms.

How often should an employee be allowed to express milk at work?

Per the FLSA, employers must provide a reasonable break time for up to 1 year (some states allow for up to 3 years) after the child is born, as frequently as the nursing employee needs. In other words, it varies by employee and must be worked out with their supervisor.

If this is new territory for your company, remember that you’re setting a precedent for future moms. Be sure to empathetically work with the employee to meet her needs. Ideally, employees should start the conversation while pregnant to allow their employer time to become educated and make arrangements.

Employees, need some tips for talking with your supervisor? Check out: breastfeedingpartners.org.

What kind of accommodations should an employer provide for pumping breastmilk?

The lactation space must be somewhere other than a bathroom that is considered private. This can be any combination of permanent, temporary, or mobile areas — although a closet isn’t considered acceptable. The space should ideally provide a locking door to prevent coworkers and/or the public from entering. If this isn’t possible, provide a “Do not disturb” sign to be hung outside the door. All windows should be shaded, and the area needs to be free from surveillance cameras or any other inside recording devices.

Need some ideas of where to create a private space? Womenshealth.gov has tips and suggestions for creating appropriate lactation spaces in any work environment, including restaurants, retail, health care, education, manufacturing, transportation, outdoors, and more.

Are lactation breaks considered compensable time?

Whether or not you pay an employee while they’re nursing or pumping depends on your break time policy. If you provide regular paid breaks to other employees, then lactating mothers’ breaks should also be compensable. If break time is unpaid, be sure the nursing employee is relieved from all duties during the break. If she’s doing any kind of work during the break (answering phones, reading training materials, responding to emails, etc.), the employee must be paid while on break.

Do all employers have to accommodate a breastfeeding employee?

Per the FLSA, all employers with 50+ employees must comply. Employers with fewer than 50 employees must comply UNLESS they can prove an undue hardship “in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Word to the wise: unless you want to develop bad press and a terrible reputation, make every effort to comply. Employers in every field, from office to construction, can find creative ways to accommodate the new moms on their team.

For more information or questions about your situation, please contact our HR experts at HR@stratus.hr.

breastfeeding at work

Do you know the federal law surrounding employees’ rights for breastfeeding at work? Here’s a quick video that also includes the low-down.

Stacey Gibson

Author Stacey Gibson

Stacey is a certified Professional in HR (PHR) and the reason her clients would never consider leaving Stratus.hr. When not at work, you can hear her at one of her children’s sporting events -- she’s the one whistling louder than the refs.

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