According to section 7(r) of The Fair Labour Standard Act, federal law requires employers to provide seasonal break time for nursing employees to express breast milk for up to one year after the child’s birth. Employers are also required to provide a private and safe lactation space other than the bathroom, shielded from view and free from intrusion, which the nursing employees may use as a pumping station. The variations in time and facilities for women who pump at work can be wide-ranging. Some women can finish pumping in under 15 minutes, while others may need over 30 minutes for setting up, pumping, and cleaning every 2 to 3 hours as milk supply, flow, and breasts react differently to pumping.
Nursing moms at work is nothing new. But navigating the unfamiliar territory of determining how, where, and how long you’re going to pump presents a new set of challenges.
It might take some time to settle into your new routine, but with the right tools and mindset, pumping milk at work will become just another smooth part of your day.
Here’s what you need to know about your rights when it comes to pumping at work in ways that make it go smoothly for you.
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How much reasonable time do I have to pump at work?
Legally, there’s no designated time guaranteed for nursing moms to pump while at work.
As a mom who has had the excruciating experience of waiting for three ounces of milk to accumulate drop by drop, I can tell you the time it takes to pump varies not just from person to person but even from session to session.
At a minimum, employers must provide a reasonable break time for nursing mothers to pump their breast milk for up to one year after the birth each time the employee needs it.
While women may choose to use their regular breaks and lunchtime period to pump breast milk, they’re not required to do so.
Employers are not mandated to pay employees during pumping breaks; however, if you use your paid standard break time, you must be compensated the same way as the other employees.
In addition, you must be completely relieved from your work duties during the pumping break, or it should attract compensation if it is work time.
Fortunately, according to the Department of Labor, what’s considered “reasonable” isn’t specified and can be as frequent as needed by the pumping mother.
It’s important to remember that your break time doesn’t just cover the act of pumping but includes all the related activities.
It includes the time it takes to get to the pumping station, assemble your pump parts, clean up, store your milk, and get back to work.
In October 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the PUMP Act.
It’s the first standalone breastfeeding bill to receive a recorded vote on the House and Senate floors, which seeks to provide space and time for hourly employees to pump and store breast milk at work, allowing mothers to continue breastfeeding.
The bill also seeks to:
- Cover nonexempt employees( Salaried workers who are not covered by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provisions)
- Require employers to pay employees for time spent pumping if they are working may be on a laptop while they pump
- Extend the employee’s protection time from one to two years
- Allow employers ten days to comply with the law after notifying them they’re not
- Make it possible for workers to file a lawsuit to seek monetary remedies if the employer fails to comply
Requirements of a designated pumping space
Although a baby can discreetly nurse using a nursing cover with minimal cleanup, pumping is a much different experience because most pumps plug into the wall, and a woman must remove part of her clothing.
To accommodate employees who need to pump milk during working hours, the FSLA requires that the employer provides a space other than the bathroom, which is shielded from view and intrusion.
Breast milk is food and should be handled in the same sanitary manner as other food, making bathrooms unacceptable spaces to accommodate pumping employees under the law.
You might use the bathroom afterward to wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs and diseases.
Offering space with amenities will significantly improve nursing employees’ experience and make it easier for them to pump and return to work more efficiently.
The following could include:
- Comfortable chair
- Adjacent table for the breast pump to sit on
- Electrical outlet
- Paper towels or wipes to clean up
- Storage space for the pump and other pumping supplies
- White noise machine to block the pump’s distracting noise for the other co-workers
- A sink with running water and soap
- A refrigerator for storing milk, if possible
Can my employer ask for a doctor’s note or other medical documentation?
No. Your employer can not compel you to submit any documentation regarding your need to pump breast milk at work.
Can you get fired for pumping at work?
No. Federal law protects your right to pump breast milk if you’re an hourly employee. You may still qualify for protection by state or local workplace laws if you’re not an hourly worker.
When does the breast milk pumping law apply?
All employers with a 50 or more employee capacity must comply with the FLSA’s break time requirement.
Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from these requirements if compliance would impose an undue hardship on the employer.
The would-be undue hardship is determined by looking at the difficulty or expense of compliance for an employer compared to the workforce, financial resources, and nature and structure of the employer’s business.
Providing lactating employees with a comfortable space and allowing them to pump at work efficiently and successfully may reduce frequent break time and give a greater sense of job and personal satisfaction.
If you want to learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding and pumping in and out of the workplace, you may want to check these posts