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Your Rights Breastfeeding in the Workplace

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This page answers the following questions:

  1. Is there a federal law that provides protection for breastfeeding moms in the workplace?
  2. Which states have laws on workplace breastfeeding rights?
  3. Who is entitled to reasonable break time and a space for expressing breast milk at work under the law?
  4. How do I request a break to express breast milk?
  5. What does my employer have to provide me with after I request a break?
  6. Am I required to be paid for break time taken to express breast milk?
  7. Does my employer need to provide a permanent space for nursing mothers to express breast milk at work?
  8. Can my employer require me to express breast milk?
  9. How do I file a complaint for a violation of a breastfeeding break time?
  10. Is my employer permitted to treat me differently because I choose to express breast milk at work?
  11. Can I file a charge for harassment based on hostile treatment directed at me for choosing to express milk at work?
  12. Can my employer deny me a break to express milk, but allows other employees to break for personal reasons?
  13. How can I file a sex discrimination charge based on expressing breast milk at work? 

1. Is there a federal law that provides protection for breast feeding moms in the workplace?

In 2010 the Affordable Care Act amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child each time she needs to express the milk. Under the law the employer must allow such break time for one year after the child’s birth.

Employers must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for an employee to express breast milk that is shielded from view and free from intrusion of coworkers and the public.

2. Which states have laws on workplace breastfeeding rights?

The following states have laws explicitly providing for protection for breastfeeding moms while at work.

Arkansas
An employer must provide reasonable daily unpaid break time to an employee who needs to express breast milk, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business. The employer must make a reasonable effort to provide employees with a private, safe and clean space close to their work area, other than a toilet stall, to express breast milk.

See Ark. Code Ann. § 11-5-116.

California
An employer must provide reasonable unpaid break time to a woman to express breast milk, unless doing so would seriously disrupt the employer's business. If possible, the break time must occur during the employee's ordinary break time. The employer must make a reasonable effort to provide the mother with a private space close to her work area, other than a bathroom, to express breast milk.

An employer who violates any provision of this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty in the amount of one hundred dollars ($100) for each violation.

See Cal. Lab. Code § 1030-1033.

Colorado
An employer must provide a nursing employee reasonable daily unpaid break time, or allow her to use paid break or meal time, or both, to express breast milk for up to two years after childbirth. The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide the employee with a private space close to her work area, other than a toilet stall, to express milk. This requirement applies to all employers.

See “Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act” at Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 8-13.5-101-104.

Connecticut
An employee has the right to express milk or breastfeed during her meal or break time. It is illegal to discriminate against or discipline an employee for exercising this right. The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a private space close to their work area, other than a toilet stall or bathroom, to express breast milk, unless doing so would impose significant difficulty or expense on the employer.

See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-40w.

Delaware
Employers are prohibited from discriminating against women on the basis of pregnancy-related conditions, including breastfeeding, and are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees who have pregnancy-related limitations. Such reasonable accommodations may include the provision of break time and appropriate facilities for expressing breast milk.

 See Del. Code Ann. tit. 19, §§ 710-11.

District of Columbia
Employers are prohibited from discriminating against women on the basis of breastfeeding and pregnancy-related medical conditions.

 See D.C. Code § 2-1401.05(a).

An employer must provide reasonable daily unpaid break periods for an employee to express breast milk. If the employer already provides a paid or unpaid break period to the employee, such time shall run concurrently with the required break period. An employer may be exempted from this requirement if it shows compliance would create an undue hardship. The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide the employee with a sanitary, private space close to her work location where she can express milk.

See D.C. Code § 2-1402.82(d).

Georgia
An employer may provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. The employer may make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location (in close proximity to the work area), other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express her milk in privacy. The break time shall, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide break time if to do so would unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.

See Ga. Code § 34-1-6.

Hawaii
An employer may not fire, refuse to hire, withhold pay from, demote, or penalize an employee for breastfeeding or expressing milk at the workplace.

An employer must provide: (1) reasonable break time for a nursing mother to express breast milk for one year after the birth of her child and (2) a private space, other than a bathroom, for an employee to express milk, for one year after the birth of her child. Employers with less than twenty employees are exempt from these requirements if they can show that compliance would impose significant difficulty or expense on their business.

Illinois
An employer must provide reasonable daily unpaid break time for an employee to express breast milk, unless doing so would unduly disrupt the employer's business. If possible, such break time must run concurrently with the employee's ordinary break time.

See 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 260/10.

Employers must make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a private space close to their work area, other than a toilet stall, where they can express milk.

See 820 Ill. Comp. Stat. 820 § 260/15.

Indiana
All employers with twenty-five or more employees must, to the extent reasonably possible, provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express milk during any time away from the employee's assigned duties. Such employers must also, to the extent reasonably possible, provide a cold storage space for employees to keep expressed milk, or allow employees to provide their own portable refrigerator for such a purpose.

Public employees receive supplemental protections. Public employers must provide reasonable daily paid break time, to run concurrently with any other break time, for employees to express breast milk, unless doing so would unduly disrupt the employer's operations. Public employers must also make reasonable efforts to provide a private room near an employee's work area, other than a toilet stall, where she can express milk.

See Ind. Code § 5-10-6-2.

Louisiana
This state law applies to employees of public schools. Louisiana school boards are required to provide nursing employees with a private room to express breast milk, and a reasonable amount of break time to do so, for up to one year after the birth of the child. If possible, the break time must occur during the employee's ordinary break time; any additional leave will be unpaid.

See La. Rev. Stat. § 17:81(W).

Maine
Employers may not discriminate against employees who choose to express breast milk in the workplace. Employers must provide adequate unpaid break time, or allow an employee to use her paid break time, to express breast milk for up to three years following childbirth. The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a clean, private place, other than a bathroom, for an employee to express breast milk. This applies to all employers.

See “Nursing Women in the Workplace” at Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 26, § 604.

Minnesota
An employer who employs one or more employees must provide a reasonable amount of unpaid break time each day to employees to express breast milk, unless doing so would unduly disrupt the employer's business. The break time must, if possible, run concurrent to break time already provided to employees. The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a private space, other than a bathroom, close to the employee's work area and with access to an electrical outlet, to express breast milk. An employer may not retaliate against an employee for asserting rights or remedies under this section.

See Minn. Stat. § 181.939.

Mississippi
No employer shall prohibit an employee from expressing breast milk during any meal period or other break period provided by the employer.

See Miss. Code Ann. § 71-1-55. 

Montana
It is an unlawful discriminatory practice for any public employer to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment an employ who expresses milk in the workplace. It is also unlawful to discriminate against an employee who expresses milk in the workplace by way of compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, unless based on a bona fide occupational qualification.

Public employers are required to make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express breast milk. Public employers are encouraged to establish policies to allow mothers who wish to continue to breastfeed after returning to work to have privacy in order to express milk and to provide facilities for milk storage.

See Mont. Code Ann. §§ 39-2-215 through 217.

New Mexico
Employers are required to provide nursing mothers with a clean and private space near the employee's workspace, other than a bathroom, to use a breast pump. They are also required to provide such employees with flexible break times.

See N.M. Stat. Ann. § 28-20-2

New York
All employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who express breast milk in the workplace. They must also provide reasonable unpaid break time, or allow employees to use paid break or meal time, for employees to express breast milk for their nursing children, for up to three years following the child's birth. Employers must make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a private space near their work area where they can express milk.

See N.Y. Labor Law § 206-c.

Oregon
Upon receiving reasonable notice, employers are required to provide reasonable unpaid rest periods for female employees to express milk. Unless otherwise agreed upon, these breaks must be thirty minutes long during each four-hour shift, and taken somewhere in the middle of the shift. If feasible, the employee is to use her otherwise provided meal or rest breaks for these purposes. Employers are not required to do so if it would impose an undue hardship on their business operations. Employers must also make reasonable efforts to provide a private location near the employee's work area, other than a restroom, for her to express milk. These requirements only apply to employers with twenty-five or more employees in Oregon, and for employees breastfeeding their children eighteen months old or younger.

See Or. Rev. Stat. § 653.077.

Rhode Island
Employers are required to make reasonable efforts to provide a private, secure and sanitary place close to an employee's work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express milk or breastfeed. This applies to all employers.

See R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-13.2-1.

Tennessee
Employers are required to provide reasonable daily unpaid break time to employees who need to express breast milk for their infant children unless doing so would unduly disrupt the employer's business. If possible, this break shall run concurrently with any other break time already provided. Employers must make reasonable efforts to provide employees with a private space close to their work area, other than a toilet stall, to express breast milk. This law applies to all employers.

See Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-1-305.

Vermont
Employers must provide nursing employees provide reasonable compensated or uncompensated time throughout the day for nursing mothers to express breast milk, as well as a private space other than a bathroom in which to do so, for up to three years after the birth of the child, unless doing so would constitute a substantial disruption to the employer's business. Employers cannot discriminate against employees who exercise this right.

See Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 305.

Virginia
Employers with more than five but fewer than fifteen employees may not terminate a female employee on the basis of lactation.

See Va. Code § 2.2-3903.

For more information on your state’s laws on expressing breast milk at work see the Department of Labor Website.

3. Who is entitled to reasonable break time and a space for expressing breast milk at work under the law?

All covered employers under the FLSA are required to follow section 7(r) and provide reasonable break time and a space other than the bathroom for their employees to express breast milk.

The FLSA applies to a broad range of employers. The law covers employers whose annual sales total $50,000 or more or employers engaged in interstate commerce. In practice, the statute covers nearly all workplaces.

There is an exception for employers with less than 50 employees. These employers do not have to follow the requirements of section 7(r) if the requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.

4. How do I request a break to express breast?

 There is no formal way to request a break to express milk. Employers are required to treat breaks taken to express breast milk the same as other breaks. Also employers are required to allow breast feeding moms to express milk as frequently as needed. Communication between the employer and employee can help to make this process a smooth one.

 5. What does my employer have to provide me with after I request a break?

Section 7(r) of the FLSA requires employers to provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to 1 year after the child’s birth. The employer is required to provide this break each time an employee needs to express milk.

Employers must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion of coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

6. Am I required to be paid for break time taken to express breast milk?

No. Employers are not required to compensate employees for break time used to express breast milk. However, if an employer already provides compensated break time, an employee who uses that time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. 

Also, the FLSA has a general break time requirement that an employee must be completely relieved from duties or else the time must be compensated as work time. This provision applies to break time taken to express breast milk.

7. Does my employer need to provide a permanent space for nursing mothers to express breast milk at work. 

No. Employers may designate a temporarily created or converted space for expressing milk. The space does not need to be permanent but it must be available when needed by nursing mothers. The space must be shielded from view, and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public. Employers may choose to create a permanent space dedicated for expressing breast milk.

8. Can my employer require me to express breast milk in the bathroom?

No. The statute expressly states that a bathroom is not a permissible space to express breast milk. If the bathroom is the only space provided by the employer for nursing mothers to express milk, the employer has violated the statute.

9. How do I file a complaint for a violation of a breastfeeding break time?

Nursing mothers who feel their break time requirements have been violated can file a complaint with the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The WHD staff would benefit from information such as the date of birth of your nursing child and a description of your concern; for example, lack of reasonable time or adequate space for expressing milk.

All services are free and confidential, and your employer cannot terminate you or in any other manner discriminate against you for filing a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division.

10. Is my employer permitted to treat me differently because I choose to express breast milk at work?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has said that because only women can lactate and express milk, less favorable treatment to women based on expressing milk at work is sex discrimination under Title VII.

As with other claims of discrimination under Title VII, an employer will be found to have discriminated on the basis of pregnancy if an employee's pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition was all or part of the motivation for an employment decision.

Intentional discrimination can be proven using any of the types of evidence used in other sex discrimination cases. Discriminatory motive may be established directly, or it can be inferred from the surrounding facts and circumstances.

An example of at Title VII violation is an employer providing break times any reason except to express breast milk.

11. Can I file a charge for harassment based on hostile treatment directed at me for choosing to express milk at work?

Harassment in the workplace can be derived from a nursing mother’s choice to express milk at work. Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), requires employers to provide a work environment free of harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. An employer's failure to do so violates the statute. Liability can result from the conduct of a supervisor, co-workers, or non-employees such as customers or business partners over whom the employer has some control.

Examples of pregnancy-based harassment include unwelcome and offensive jokes or name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule, insults, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance motivated by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions including breastfeeding.

Actions such as others trying to view a woman while she is expressing breast milk and making lewd comments about the mother’s breast can lead to a hostile environment and sexual harassment claim.

Harassment must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, by looking at all the circumstances in context. Relevant factors in evaluating whether harassment creates a work environment sufficiently hostile to violate Title VII may include any of the following (no single factor is determinative)

The frequency of the discriminatory conduct;

The severity of the conduct;

Whether the conduct was physically threatening or humiliating;

Whether the conduct unreasonably interfered with the employee's work performance; and

The context in which the conduct occurred, as well as any other relevant factor.

The more severe the harassment, the less pervasive it needs to be, and vice versa. Accordingly, unless the harassment is quite severe, a single incident or isolated incidents of offensive conduct or remarks generally do not create an unlawful hostile working environment. However, comments or other acts that are not sufficiently severe standing alone may become actionable when repeated, although there is no threshold number of harassing incidents that gives rise to liability.

12. Can my employer deny me a break to express milk, but allows other employees to break for personal reasons?

13. How do to file a sex discrimination charge based on expressing breast milk at work?

If you feel that you have been discriminated against and/or harassed at work while expressing breast milk you can file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

You may file a charge at the EEOC office closest to where you live. There are 53 field offices that accept charges of discrimination. Regardless of where you file, your charge may be investigated at the EEOC office closest to where the discrimination occurred.

You have 180 days after the alleged discrimination to file a charge.