Lactation & Breastfeeding at Work
Fighting for New Mothers’ Right to Work
Health organizations like the World Health Organization and the American Association of Pediatrics all recommend breastfeeding exclusively for six months after your baby’s birth. New mothers are inundated with pressure to breastfeed and many women feel that their worth as a mother depends on this first “test.” But breastfeeding is hard! It takes time, commitment, and some degree of luck. Studies show that returning to work is one of the main factors causing women to quit breastfeeding.
In the state of California, breastfeeding mothers have many rights in the workplace. employers are required by law to accommodate the breastfeeding needs of nursing mothers in the workplace. While state law does not require employers to allow their employees to breastfeed their infants at work, mothers who are breastfeeding are entitled to take breaks throughout work hours to express breast milk. And you are entitled to do it with dignity: in private but not in a bathroom, in a locked room, on a clean, flat surface, and in reasonable proximity to a refrigerator and sink.
It is important to note that a toilet stall is not adequate private space for breastfeeding under the law. Employers must provide space, “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.” Additionally, your employer and co-workers can face serious consequences if they harass or discriminate against you because you are pumping or breastfeeding.
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Know Your Rights: FAQs About Lactation & Breastfeeding
What types of employers have to provide breaks for nursing mothers?
A: In California, all employers must provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee's infant child. If your employer does not provide lactation breaks, you are entitled to statutory penalties.
Federally, employers that are covered by the FLSA are legally obligated to comply with the break time for nursing mothers provision. However, employers with less than 50 employees and can prove that complying with the provision would cause undue hardship are exempt.
How many breaks can I take?
A: You are entitled to the breaks you need to pump breastmilk for your own comfort and your child’s needs. There is no set limit; the number of breaks need only be “reasonable” given your circumstances. Your employer cannot require a doctor’s note for you to take lactation breaks.
If you are a non-exempt employee, you must be paid for regular rest breaks. Additional breaks may be unpaid.
If you are an exempt employee, your employer cannot cut your pay or take deductions for breaks.
Am I entitled to paid breaks?
A: In California, you are entitled to paid rest periods based on the number of hours you work. You can and should use these rest periods for lactation if possible. You are also entitled to additional rest breaks as needed, but these do not need to be paid.
Do I have to pump in a bathroom stall?
A: No. You cannot be required to pump in a bathroom stall. The space where you pump must be truly private and free from intrusion by co-workers and the public. It also must be clean and free of hazardous materials.
Do I have to buy my own refrigerator? What if there’s no sink?
A: No. In California, you are legally entitled to a sink with running water and a refrigerator suitable for storing milk (or another cooling device) near your work area. You cannot be required to pay for this work expense. Again, if your employer violates this provision, you can be eligible for statutory penalties.
Is my employer required to create a permanent, dedicated space to accommodate nursing mothers?
A: The answer is no. Employers can temporarily create or convert space for nursing mothers as long as it is shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.
You are entitled to a room or other location—other than a bathroom—to pump. The room or space must be truly private. It must be clean and free of hazardous materials. It must be in “reasonable proximity” to your work area.
Can employers take adverse action due to my lactation or breastfeeding breaks?
A: Your employer cannot demote you, reduce your schedule, deny you a promotion, or worse, terminate you, because they are annoyed that you are pumping at work, taking “too many” breaks, or took maternity leave.
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