By Kathie Marinelli With more than half of women with infants employed, simple workplace accommodations are critical for breastfeeding success. By understanding your rights as a breastfeeding employee and learning how to plan for your return to work, you can successfully transition back to work and find the support you need to reach your personal breastfeeding goals.
The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day. The United States Breastfeeding Committee’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law compiles key information to ensure every family has access to accurate and understandable information on this law.
Key Facts about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law:
- Who is covered: The law applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
- Space: Employers are required to provide a place that is not a bathroom. It must be completely private so that no one can see inside. Employers are not required to create a permanent dedicated space for breastfeeding employees. As long as the space is available each time the employee needs it, the employer is meeting the space requirements.
- Time: The law requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time, recognizing that how often and how much time it takes to pump is different for every mother. Employees should consider all the steps necessary to pump, including the time it will take to gather pumping supplies, get to the space, pump, clean up, and return to their workspace. Employers must provide time and space each time the employee needs it throughout her work day.
- Enforcement: The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. If an employer refuses to comply, employees can file a complaint by calling the toll-free WHD number 1-800-487-9243.
- Small Businesses: All employers, regardless of their size or number of employees, must comply with the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. Following a complaint from a breastfeeding employee, businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to apply for an undue hardship exemption. To receive an exemption for that employee, the employer must prove that providing these accommodations would cause “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Until they are granted an exemption by the Department of Labor, they must comply with the law.
- State laws: Employees who are not covered by the “Break Time” law may be covered be a state law. Contact your state breastfeeding coalition for help understanding the breastfeeding laws where you serve.
The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law was an important victory for families, but breastfeeding success shouldn’t depend on a mom’s job type of job. The Supporting Working Moms Act would expand the existing federal law to cover approximately 12 million additional salaried employees, including elementary and secondary school teachers. We can all help make this happen! Use USBC’s easy action tool to ask your legislators to cosponsor the Supporting Working Moms Act with just a few clicks. Twelve million employees are counting on us! As Surgeon General Regina Benjamin advised us, “Everyone can help make breastfeeding easier.”
Support for breastfeeding in the workplace is undoubtedly a "win-win" that benefits families, employers, and the economy, yet one of the major reasons mothers stop breastfeeding is because of the lack of effective, reasonable workplace accommodations when they return to work. Employers that provide lactation support experience an impressive return on investment, including lower health care costs, absenteeism, and turnover rates, with improved morale, job satisfaction, and productivity. The retention rate for employees of companies with lactation support programs is 94%, while the national average is only 59%!
Breastfeeding and working is not only possible, it's beneficial for everyone involved. You can find additional information and resources in USBC’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law and help spread the word about this valuable new resource with other families by sharing this link: www.usbreastfeeding.org/workplace-law.
Moms, babies and employers everywhere will be glad you did!! Important links and information:
- Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law
- Action Alert: Supporting Working Moms Act
- Directory of State, Territorial, and Tribal Breastfeeding Coalitions
- United States Department of Labor Employee Rights Card
- Wage and Hour Division Break Time for Nursing Mothers Webpage
- The Business Case for Breastfeeding