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Knowing your rights when you go back to work
As a nursing mother, it’s important to know your rights in the workplace. The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law is a federal law that was amended to the Fair Labor Standards Act and passed as part of the Affordable Care Act. It requires employers to provide a “reasonable” break time and a private place, other than a bathroom, to express breast milk at work up until the baby’s first birthday.
Despite the fact that breastfeeding moms are protected by the law, many employers are not fully aware of what they must provide. The key points that often require some extra discussion are: 1) what is considered a reasonable amount of time—including time for set-up and clean-up—and 2) that the space cannot be a bathroom (yuck).
It’s best to talk to your boss—and if necessary, your HR team—before your maternity leave to make sure you are provided the time and space to pump upon your return to work. Talking about pumping might sound like an awkward situation, but you’re feeding your baby and that means you have to express milk as often as the baby feeds. Download our Workplace Bill of Rights, a customizable letter that you can copy, paste and send straight to your boss to help start that conversation. If the discussion gets tough, remember that the law is on your side.
Some employers are simply uneducated or misinformed about breastfeeding, so prep your responses in case of pushback or questions. If they bring something up and you’re not sure of the answer, offer to look into it and get back to them. There are tons of helpful resources out there, including FAQs pages, brochures on the business case for breastfeeding, and sample statements and responses.
If you run into trouble when you return to work, don’t be afraid to speak up. You can also reach out to the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD), which is in charge of enforcing this law, by calling the toll-free number or using the website to file a complaint.
A few extra details to note:
- The law applies to mostly hourly wage-earning and some salaried (nonexempt) employees.
- Employers don’t have to pay employees for these breaks, unless moms use the paid breaks they are already given to pump.
- Some states have additional laws and provisions that provide greater protections. If you aren’t covered under the federal law, check out your state laws.
- If an employer has fewer than 50 employees, they are not subject to the requirements if they can prove it will cause “undue hardship” to the business.
While it’s fantastic that we have some laws in place to protect the rights of nursing moms in the workplace, if the ACA is repealed, these protections (and other breastfeeding-related services that are currently provided at no cost) could be in jeopardy. Moms will have to advocate for themselves and have frank conversations with their employers about the time and space they need to pump.
The United States Breastfeeding Committee and others are currently working to expand the law to include approximately 12 million more salaried employees through the Supporting Working Moms Act. If you’d like to lend your voice in support, get in touch with your state representatives.
Breastfeeding laws vary by state. See how your state compares:
No matter where you work or what your job, feeding your baby is important. Going back to work shouldn’t mean your breastfeeding journey has to end.