Ask an Expert: Workplace Rights of Breastfeeding Moms

April 28, 2015
Ask an Expert: Workplace Rights of Breastfeeding Moms

Returning to work after the birth of a baby can be difficult for any mom, but for breastfeeding moms, this transition often comes with its own set of challenges.

We asked our Facebook community what questions they had about rights related to breastfeeding and pumping at work, and then compiled some of the top questions for Bob Simandl of Simandl Law Group, S.C., our legal expert on all things workplace and HR. Bob regularly provides information on compliance issues to employers and believes that providing employees with accurate legal information concerning breastfeeding will assist both employers and employees to positively address these workplace issues. Bob took the time to lend some perspective to moms with unique work situations or challenging schedules. Read his responses to your questions below.*

NEW JOB

If I’m starting a new job, do I need to inform a potential employer at an interview that I am a nursing mom? – Katie P.

Nope, no need to. An employee does not need to inform a potential employer that she is a nursing mom. Likewise, employees are not required to inform potential employers of future intent to pump milk while at work.

TRAVEL

I would like to know about employee required travel and breastfeeding. Are there any laws that allow breastfeeding moms to get out of company travel? I’m curious because I have twins and don’t produce enough milk to last them a full week of me not being there. Would love for them to stay strictly on breast milk. – Heather B., Alabama

If you are a non-exempt employee covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you are entitled to reasonable break times during work – including work performed while traveling – to pump. However, employees are not entitled to a change in their duties due to their need and/or desire to pump. I would encourage you to talk to your manager about your situation, as there might be an opportunity to accommodate your request.

CUT HOURS

My employer says they are okay and act like they support pumping, but only a bathroom is provided and they have cut my hours from full time to 10 hours a week. What can I do to protect myself? – Lauretta W., Wisconsin

I’m sorry to hear that. If you are a non-exempt employee, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed in a private location that is not a bathroom. As to your comment regarding your reduction of hours, employers may have many legitimate reasons for reducing an employee’s hours of work. But, reducing hours would be unlawful if done in retaliation for exercising your rights under the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. I encourage you to first talk to your human resource department to find out the reason for the reduction in hours.  If you have reason to believe that the reduction of hours is related to your request to pump, you may wish to talk to a lawyer.

SALARIED EMPLOYEES

Everything I’ve read about workplace breastfeeding laws says hourly employees. Is there any protection for those of us who are salaried employees? – Katie S., Pennsylvania

The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law only applies to non-exempt (hourly) employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), though certain state laws may require employers to provide such breaks for exempt (typically salaried) employees. However, the Department of Labor does encourage employers to provide breaks to all nursing mothers regardless of their exempt/non-exempt status under the FLSA and you are free to request such break time from your employer despite your exempt status.

RIGHTS FOR STUDENTS

As a college student I would love to know if there are laws that apply to me. I have 12-hour clinical days each week. Luckily this semester I have a great instructor who gives me the time. Next semester I’ll have 3 clinical days a week and can only hope for the same. – Jean C., Ohio

Unfortunately, the federal law regarding Break Time for Nursing Mothers only applies to employees, and not students. Plus, since these clinicals appear to be an extension of your academic program, you wouldn’t have an employer-employee relationship with the facility at which you are doing your clinicals. If no employment relationship exists, the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act and the nursing requirements don’t apply. However, you may wish to speak with your instructor to see if accommodations can be made for you.

RESTAURANT SERVER

I’m a server so I never get a break to pump. I go about 4-6 hours (sometimes more) without pumping and it’s decreasing my supply (a lot). Is there anything I can do? – Aubrey L., Florida

Yes, absolutely. As a non-exempt employee, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as you need in a private location (other than a bathroom). Therefore, you should inform your employer of your need for break time and handle your shift coverage during those breaks in the same manner as you would if you were taking a lunch break or an unpaid break. Note that any breaks beyond those regularly provided to all employees are not required under the law to be paid breaks.

TEACHER

I am a teacher. I have to use my contractual prep period and lunch to pump. This means I get less prep time than other contracted employees. Should I get the planning time I am contractually entitled to and pump another time? There really is no other time, however, because I have classes all other periods. I’ve made it work, but I’m wondering if it is fair to be losing planning time or if this is just something I have to deal with because I made the choice to breastfeed. I also have to eat lunch while I pump in a storage closet. If I don’t eat while I’m pumping, I have no time to eat. I am so stressed out all the time because there isn’t enough time for everything to get done! – Amy K.

Depending on your duties as a teacher, you are likely exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which means that you do not qualify as a “covered employee” under the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. However, in the event you do qualify as a non-exempt employee (typically classified by employers as hourly employees), the law requires that employees are completely relieved from duty during a break time, or else the time must be compensated as work time. So, if  you qualify as a non-exempt employee, your employer must provide you with reasonable break times as needed during the day for you to express your milk – other than your ‘contractual prep time’ in which you are required to perform work. If you are an exempt employee, you are not entitled to these breaks and may need to use your prep time and lunch to pump, unfortunately.

FIREFIGHTER

I’m a firefighter. Does the law differ in how long and often I can pump since I work 24-hour shifts? – Beth F., Kansas

No, it does not. Regardless of the length of your shift, provided you are a non-exempt employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act, your employer must provide you with a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently and for as long as needed – including breaks that are above and beyond your regularly scheduled breaks. Of course, employers are not required to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk unless an employee uses their regularly-compensated break time to express milk.

TIME FOR BREAKS

What are my rights if I’m supposed to use my 15-minute break periods to pump, but each of my pumping sessions takes about 25 minutes? – Heather M., Illinois

Employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother. If you require 25 minutes to pump, your employer should allow you a 25-minute break, noting that the law does not require any break time above and beyond employees’ regular breaks to be compensated. So, you may be paid for the first 15 minutes of your regularly scheduled break time, but not for the additional time which you need to pump.

I’ve recently been told I can only pump on my breaks. Which puts me at pumping 4 hours after I nursed last, 3 hours after that session and an hour and half after that. This is causing my supply to majorly drop. Can they legally tell me when I can take pumping breaks? And how long I can pump? – Jessica P., Kansas

No, they can’t. Your employer cannot dictate when you have to take your pumping breaks. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law says that you are entitled to a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed in a private location other than a bathroom, for up to one year following the birth of your child.

Do you have questions about your rights when it comes to pumping breast milk at work? We’ve gathered a variety of resources for working moms at www.MedelaAtWork.com. You can also join the conversation and find a community of pumping, working moms at #MedelaAtWork on Twitter and Instagram.

 

*DISCLAIMER: The responses of our workplace experts are provided for informational purposes only. The information is not intended to create, and does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship between sender and receiver. Information contained on this website is for general informational and educational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice or legal opinions. Individuals posting questions on this site should always verify whether any applicable state laws and ordinances may apply. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of your own attorney.

37 thoughts on “Ask an Expert: Workplace Rights of Breastfeeding Moms

  1. I work at a select service hotel by Marriott. My hotel is currently severely understaffed and I often work alone and am responsible for the desk/reservations as well as maintenance calls, guest “errands” (delivering toiletries to rooms), pool logging, laundry and other tasks around the hotel. Even when we are at full capacity there could be 500 guests in the hotel and just 1 me to take care of everyone. I also work 6-7 days a week and a swing shift on top of that to cover all staff shortages.

    I am interrupted several times a week during my pumping sessions to tend to guests out front or answer the phones and when this occurs my regular pump volume decreases. I also flat out miss pumps some days because I am so busy running around the hotel to help people with all kinds of issues. My supply is dropping now from the irregular and missed sessions and assuming stress and lack of sleep has contributed as well.

    I have brought up this issue numerous times and noting can be done because we are somehow not budgeted to have 2 employees on site after housekeeping leaves for the day. My boss sometimes tried to help cover the desk but she wants me to pump before she leaves and I try to stick to my baby’s eating schedule. She doesn’t understand how this affects my supply when I go out of sync with my baby.

    I know that there are other working mothers out there who have a hard time with this as well, but this has become such an issue for me I finally decided to step down from my management role and only do part time front desk just so I can have a couple days off a week and get on a more regular schedule.

    I just moved here for this management position and held the same exact title at the same brand hotel in another city where we always had at least 2 people on staff. I was given the pump time I needed there everyday, kept a regular schedule and days off and was not interrupted a single time at the other property. I am just so stunned at how different this hotel runs compared to that one!

    Hats off to Marriott Headquarters though for that mothers room! I just wish they would require their hotel sites to work along the same guidelines and offer better options for their front line employees.

    I guess my question is: Is this practice legal, not being able to guarantee me non interrupted pump time? I have started keeping a log and document every time I am pulled away from my pump and miss sessions as well as volume produced.

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