Breastfeeding Laws: At Work

Federal law offers some protections for breastfeeding women in the workplace. In 2010, section 7(r) of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act  (FLSA) was amended to include Break Time for Nursing Mothers. The law requires employers to provide non-exempt (i.e. hourly) breastfeeding employees with reasonable break time and a private lactation space that is not a bathroom. This law protects a woman’s right to express milk at work for one year after her child’s birth.

Federal FLSA Break Time for Nursing Mothers

Key Takeaways:

  • The law does not specify the amount of break time. Some mothers need 15 minutes, but other mothers may need 30 minutes or more. Some mothers might only pump twice a day, other mothers might pump four times. “Reasonable” break time makes accommodation for variations in biology.

  • The lactation accommodation cannot be a bathroom and must be free from intrusion.

  • The breaks do not need to be paid.

  • If the company has fewer than 50 employees and the breaks constitute a “hardship” to the employer, the requirements can be waived. The burden of proof, however, is on the employer to show that enforcement of the law would cause “undue hardship.”  More information can be found on the U.S. Department of Labor’s website here.

While every state now protects a woman’s right to breastfeed her child in public, only 26 states (as well as The District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have laws that protect workplace breastfeeding rights. Many of the state laws predate the FLSA amendment, and some offer even greater protections, such as protecting all breastfeeding employees (not just hourly employees) or extending lactation accommodations beyond just one year.  Employers are required to follow the law (federal or state) that provides greater protections.