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Working and Breastfeeding Employment Laws (Part 2)

Continued from Working and Breastfeeding Employment Laws (Part 1)...

Reading and understanding working and breastfeeding employment laws can be tricky.

Understanding working and breastfeeding employment laws

In Part 1 we already looked at what the room and time requirements are.

If you haven't read Part 1, here is what according to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (signed into law in March of 2010) an employer should provide:

"...reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk."¹


"...a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk."¹

This article talks about the rule exceptions, law enforcement, and state laws. These are the main areas that caused confusion when I first read the legislature. So let's make sense of it all.

Understanding "Exemption" Requirements

A nursing mother is only covered by this law if she is a non-exempt employee, that is an hourly employee entitled to overtime pay. 

If she is an exempt worker (as most executive and administrative workers are), her employer is not required to provide time and place for her to express milk under the Federal law.

Important: If you are an exempt worker not covered by the Federal law, check your state’s legislature, as you may still be covered by the state laws.

If not covered by any laws, think it through in advance, work to create a favorable atmosphere and relationship with your boss, and then ask for a favor. For all your hard work and time put into the company, your employer may allow several breaks during the day to express milk. Here is an article on how to talk to your boss.

Is your company supportive of your breastfeeding goals? Click here to share your experience!

Understanding Rule Exceptions

An employer does not have to abide by this law, if he employs less than 50 workers (at all work sites) and if requirements of the law impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, nature and structure of the business.

Good to Know: If you work for a small company, do not assume that you don’t have the right for breaks to pump.

Every business has to follow the law, unless there is a federal government exemption.

So every time an employee, who works for a company with less than 50 workers, asks for pumping breaks and a private room, the employer should prove his case of undue hardships to the federal government.

If approved, this employer will be issued an exemption from meeting the law requirements for THIS employee.

This same procedure has to be followed every time there is a new request. Employers can’t be automatically exempt for the lifetime.

Therefore, quite honestly I haven’t seen many small businesses that would want to go through this. That in itself is undue hardship. In practice, most companies are very supportive of nursing women in the workplace.

Are you working for a small company? Does your company support your breastfeeding goals? Share your story here!

Law Enforcement and Complaints

The only thing more important that the law itself is the means of enforcing it.  Without the proper enforcement in place, the law may very well just be a piece of advice.

“Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law is enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor.

They are also the ones who would accept your complaint and work to make your employer comply.

Remember:  Your employer CAN NOT retaliate against you, if he/she finds out that you filed a complaint or testified in a proceeding.

If you feel your rights as a nursing mother are being violated, here is a number for you to call: 1-866-487-9243.

To file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division, be ready to tell them: your name, address, phone number, job title, how you are paid, your baby’s date of birth, company name, address and phone number, and what bothers you.

It is worth mentioning, that some states require that there takes place a nonbinding mediation between an employee and an employer in case of a potential violation of working and breastfeeding employment laws. 

Did you ever have to file a complaint? What was the process like? Share here!

Working and Breastfeeding Employment Laws at a State Level

Federal law provides the minimum protection of the rights of breastfeeding women in the workplace in the US. Many states offer an even greater protection. If your state laws are more favorable to working mothers, then the state laws rule.

Example: Colorado law requires companies to provide reasonable break time to nursing mothers for 2 years after the birth of the child. According to the Federal law, the term is 1 year. Since Colorado law is more favorable to breastfeeding mothers, it overrules the Federal law.

At the time of this writing 24 states in the US, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have working and breastfeeding employment laws.

If you need help understanding the rights you have in your state, NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures) website is a great resource and has information about each state.

Breastfeeding supporters have also formed support groups and coalitions in every state. Here is a link to a list of them by state, territory and tribe.

¹ Source: US Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division. Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA.

› Employment Laws (Part 2)

And How Does Your Company Follow the Law?
Share Your Experience!

Does your company support nursing mothers? Is there a lactation room and what does it look like? Are pumping breaks provided? What other support and education does the company provide? If none of the above, did you talk to someone about it?

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