Lactation Rights in the Workplace

Employees, particularly those with young children, are looking for flexibility and support in the workplace. Adequate and supportive policy can empower employees, helping them to maintain a positive balance between work and family life. This can help employees to be more productive when they’re at work and increase satisfaction overall. One specific way that employers are expected to support parents, particularly new mothers, is through lactation rights.

For almost a decade federal law has mandated that employers provide nursing women with adequate space and time to express milk (pump) at work. In 2010 the Affordable Care Act (ACA) amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to ensure employers are meeting the needs of nursing employees. Under these laws, employers are required to allow breaks for pumping but do not have to pay employees for these breaks. In addition, these laws do not apply to employers with 50 or less employees.

Federal law sets a baseline for what should be provided for nursing mothers. A comfortable space where the employee can be safe from intrusion and adequate time for pumping needs is key. This can look different for each employee and each organization. Each person is different, and one nursing mother may need more frequent breaks while another may need fewer, longer breaks. Because of this, the laws do not state specifically what is expected, but offer less restrictive requirements for providing for employees needs.

A comfortable space can be a tall cubicle, a portable screen or a room with a locked door. While the FLSA does not dictate what the space must look like or include, it cannot be a bathroom or a space that is expected to be shared. In addition to federal law, each state has regulations around supporting nursing mothers. State and local laws can vary in strictness but generally put more regulations on what employers need to provide. To ensure you are complying, check the local and state laws through the Department of Labor in your area.

In addition to meeting your employees’ basic needs, it is important to remember the human factor in your workforce. Allow the employee to feel comfortable and not pressured to cut their nursing break short. This can mean hiring temporary employees that help to allow time for your employee to be away from their job. This can be particularly important if you work in a field such as education or manufacturing. Providing this additional support as well as a comfortable, private space for your employees to pump will help them feel respected and valued.

No matter your industry, providing your employees with the tools to succeed is invaluable. Employees who feel appreciated, respected, and supported by their employers are more likely to be loyal and productive. Providing lactation support for employees is one step in providing the support system that empowers your employees both in their home life and at work. For more information on the topic visit the Department of Labor’s website.

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