Protecting the Rights of Nursing Mothers: FLSA Protections for Employees to Pump Breast Milk at Work

The decision to breastfeed your baby is a personal one, and many mothers choose to provide this valuable nourishment to their infants. However, the commitment to breastfeeding can pose challenges when returning to work. Fortunately, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) includes important protections for those employees who need to express milk in the workplace, ensuring that women can continue to provide for their children without sacrificing their career.

In 2010, Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 207) was amended to require employers to provide a nursing mother reasonable time to express breast milk after the birth of her child. Under what has become known as the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” provision, employers are required to provide a reasonable break time to new mothers for one year after the child’s birth.  Importantly, the law stipulates that the space provided for expressing milk must be “shielded from view and free from intrusion” by coworkers and the public. Therefore, a bathroom does not meet the requirements under the FLSA. Instead, a private, non-bathroom space that is clean and safe must be provided for employees to pump during the workday.

While this provision to the FLSA is a vital step towards creating a more supportive and inclusive workplace for women who are committed to both their careers and children, it is important to note the limitations of the law. First, employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to these requirements if they can demonstrate that providing the necessary accommodations would create an undue hardship for their business operations. Additionally, an employer is not required to compensate an employee for the break time that is needed to pump. However, an employee must either be “completely relieved from duty” or paid for the break time.

On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the PUMP Act into law as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023. The law amended the FLSA to extend coverage of the right to express milk at work to nearly all employees covered by the FLSA regardless of whether they are exempt from minimum wage and overtime requirements, with the exception of certain employees of railroads, airlines, and motor coach carriers. If an employer fails to abide by the law, employees must provide the employer with notice of the violation and ten days to remedy the issue.  If an employer fails to remedy the violation, the employee may be entitled to damages.

Mothers should not have to choose between their professional lives and their role as caregivers. Therefore, if you are a breastfeeding mother and your employer is not providing the necessary accommodations, it is important to know your rights.  Employers and employees should consult experienced legal counsel to be fully advised of their rights and obligations under the law. For assistance in this important area, feel free to consult the Employment Team at the Finney Law Firm.

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