Pumping at Work: What are my break time rights as a breastfeeding employee?
Ohio laws allow new mothers to breastfeed their babies in any place of public accommodation. However, some women run into obstacles when they need to pump breast milk at work.
Protections added to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) by a 2010 amendment to the law – known as the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” provision – allows mothers employed by a covered employer time to pump during the work day and requires covered employers to provide a private location to express milk at work. When employers refuse to offer adequate break time, they may be liable.
What rights do new mothers have to pump at work?
The 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act ensures all employees covered by the law the opportunity to pump breast milk during the work day.
Under the new “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” amendment, employers must offer women a private place to pump separate from the bathroom. While this does not have to be a dedicated space, it must be available anytime a female employee needs to pump. Employers must also provide “reasonable” time for new mothers to express milk, based on their individual needs. Employers are not required to pay employees during these breaks, although employers who already provide paid breaks must allow employees to use these breaks for pumping if they wish.
Are there exemptions to this law?
While the Department of Labor (DOL) encourages all employers to comply with the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law, small businesses may qualify for an exemption if they can prove that compliance would cause an undue hardship. Only businesses with fewer than 50 employees are eligible to apply for this exemption, and gaining approval from the DOL is difficult.
This process begins when a breastfeeding employee files a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. In response, the employer can file for an exemption and provide proof that compliance causes “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Until the DOL grants an official exemption, the employer must comply with all aspects of the law, providing both time and private space for pumping during the workday.
How can I protect my legal rights if my employer does not comply?
If your employer refuses to comply, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. However, this kind of flagrant refusal to comply with the law is rare. In many cases, employers simply make it difficult for breastfeeding mothers to pump, and may use other excuses to demote or fire the employee.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) protects women from this type of discrimination, or retaliation, after filing a complaint. Because lactation is a pregnancy-related medical condition, it falls under the same discrimination laws that protect pregnant women. In addition, because breastfeeding is a practice that applies only to female employees, discriminating against a woman because of her need to pump may also violate federal and state sex discrimination statutes.
If you believe your employer may be violating your right to pump in the workplace, our attorneys at Robert A. Klingler Co., L.P.A. can assess your case and the best approach to manage the situation. We will also help you take the next steps, from filing a DOL complaint to filing a discrimination lawsuit. We will protect your rights and safeguard your health to the fullest extent of the law. Call us today at 513-665-9500 to learn more.