When nursing mothers return to work, it’s not always easy for them to find time and space to breastfeed. As a result, the federal government requires employers to assist new mothers. In celebration of breastfeeding awareness month, we’re covering what you should do to follow the rules and to help your nursing employees.
The Affordable Care Act created new protections for nursing mothers by amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to include them. This law says that nursing mothers are eligible for breaks to express (pump) breast milk.
This applies to all your employees who are paid hourly. It also applies to your non-exempt salary workers, those who are eligible to earn overtime even though they make a salary. However, you are not required to provide breaks to salaried workers exempt from earning overtime.
For eligible employees, the law says employers need to provide “reasonable” break time for nursing mothers to pump milk for the first year after her baby is born. The law doesn’t specify how many breaks a nursing mother can take or how long each break should be. You should discuss with your employees how much time they need in order to determine their break schedule.
Some states have their own protections for nursing mothers that go beyond federal law. For example, in Colorado, you must provide breaks for up to two years for nursing mothers who want to continue pumping milk. The National Conference of State Legislatures lists all the states’ laws so you can check if your state has additional requirements.
You are also supposed to provide a private space (shielded from employees and customers) for nursing mothers to pump milk. The law does not say exactly what this private space should be, but it cannot be a bathroom stall.
A private room in the back would be ideal. If you do not have a spare room, you could put up a screen around a cubicle or space in the back of the office. The key takeaway is that you need to provide a private space and cannot ask employees to use a bathroom.
Consider providing extra amenities for your space if possible. Your employees who are nursing would appreciate it if you offered a comfortable chair, a fridge to store milk and a sink with towels so they can clean up before returning to work.
Paying for Breaks
If you do not pay your employees for taking regular breaks, then you don’t need to pay nursing mothers for taking a break to pump milk. You only need to provide the time. However, if you do offer paid breaks to other employees, nursing mothers should be allowed to use their paid breaks to pump breast milk. If they require additional breaks on top of the paid ones, those breaks do not have to be paid.
If your business has fewer than 50 employees, you can apply for an exemption from providing breaks to nursing mothers. You need to prove that it’s an undue hardship for your business to allow additional breaks and to provide a nursing station. The U.S. Department of Labor says an undue hardship is a “significant difficulty or expense” and they make this decision based on each company’s unique situation. If you can show that making these accommodations is an undue hardship, you will not be required to provide breaks.
Even if you think you qualify for an exemption, think carefully about whether it’s worth it. It does not cost much to provide unpaid breaks for nursing mothers, but it’s a benefit they will appreciate.
For breastfeeding awareness month, why not show you value nursing mothers in the workplace? By taking steps to make nursing mothers more comfortable, not only will you stay compliant with federal law, you’ll also improve morale by showing employees you support their new families.