New mothers know that breast milk provides the best nutrition for their infants. After returning to work from maternity leave, most mothers will need to pump breast milk during working hours in order to avoid pain and keep their milk from drying out.
Employers are required to make accommodations for nursing women in the workplace. The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires that employers provide extra break time for working mothers as well as a location to pump in private. This location must be somewhere other than a bathroom, and should be reasonable close to the employee’s work area.
Mothers cannot be required to express milk in a bathroom or toilet stall even if there are no other private areas available in the workplace. Employers must provide an alternative location, like a closed office, where nursing mothers can express milk privately. Employers must continue to provide break time and space for nursing mothers until the infant turns one.
Federal law only covers employers who are required to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). FLSA usually only applies to hourly employees and employers with more than 50 employees. However, in additional to federal law, California’s Labor Code also requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for working mothers. Under Chapter 3.8 of the code, employers are required to provide reasonable break time (which may run concurrently with regularly scheduled break times) to express milk.
Employers are not required to provide paid break times to nursing employees. However, if the employer already provides paid breaks to other employees, the employer cannot discriminate against the nursing mother. So, if other workers are allowed to take short breaks without losing pay, a nursing mother must be allowed to do the same.
An employer who violates California law is liable for a penalty of up to $100 for each violation. The federal version of the law is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, which may file a complaint against an employer and award damages like back pay to employees who are not provided time and space to express breast milk.
All employers, regardless of size, are required to comply with these laws. In some instances, businesses with fewer than 50 employees may apply for an undue hardship exemption, if the employer can prove that providing accommodations for nursing mothers would cause significant difficulty or expense in comparison to the size and resources of a business. However, this is a difficult standard to meet, and most nursing mothers should take comfort in the fact that their employer will be required to make accommodations for their pregnancy or face the possibility of paying damages.
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