Pumping at Work: Knowing Your Rights
Go back into the office (whatever your "office" may be!) armed with full knowledge of your pumping rights.
Congratulations mama: you did it! You’ve birthed your baby and over the past few weeks, you’ve established a breastfeeding bond with your baby. Unfortunately for many of us, just as we’re getting into our groove, we’ll have to start preparing for the next step of our parenting journey: returning to work while maintaining our breastfeeding relationship with our baby. For many breastfeeding moms, this will mean pumping often to help maintain our supply and prevent discomfort and infection.
Plain and simple: pumping breastmilk in the workplace isn’t just vital to feeding our baby, but also to our health.
Am I protected by law to pump at work?
Between state and federal laws, breastfeeding moms have more rights than ever in the workplace. If you’re covered under Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), you are also covered under the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers, which sets minimum standards for nursing and pumping mothers. The FLSA applies to most hourly employees, and employers that must comply with the FLSA must also post a notice that explains the rights of the employees it covers. If you are not covered under FLSA, you may be covered by state laws instead, which vary from state to state. Your state may have greater protections, in addition to what is mandated federally.
What federal protections do we have as breastfeeding mothers have in the workplace?
● Employers must provide lactating women covered under the FLSA reasonable break times to express milk for at least one year after the child’s birth, each time the employee needs to express milk. Typically, you can expect to pump every 2 to 3 hours, or around two to three times per 8-hour work period. If you’re working a 12-hour shift, you may need to pump three to four times to maintain your milk production. Many mothers also use their regular breaks to pump.
● Employers must provide a place other than a bathroom, that is also shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. Even small businesses are now required to comply with this provision, and borrowing a private office or empty conference room also works.
● It is also mandated that if your state or union has a law or union rule that goes beyond what federal law dictates must be provided, your employer must abide by the greater protection.
Unfortunately, federal law does not require companies to pay lactating mothers for the time that they’re away from their job to pump. If you’re concerned with having your pay docked due to the time you’re away so that you can pump, you may be able to minimize that with certain breast pumps that may allow you to continue doing your job while you’re pumping, such as the Freemie Hands Free breast pump.
What if my employer violates my right to express breastmilk at work?
Many employers may not be up-to-date on requirements for lactating mothers and sadly, some employers may even feel hostile they don’t feel they should have to accommodate pumping moms at work. If your employer violates your right to pump in the workplace, you can take legal action - and win.
If you feel that your rights are being violated, the best thing that you can do is start documenting the violations by recording each date, time, and description of the violation in a notebook, especially if getting photographic or video evidence of the violations is not an option. You can also share a fact sheet from the Department of Labor and this brochure from the Health Resources and Services Administration.