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Are you familiar with the workplace breastfeeding laws in your state? Even if your state doesn’t have specific workplace breastfeeding laws, don’t worry, you are still protected. On the federal level there is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to include the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law. This law covers non-exempt employees covered by FLSA. More extensive lactation room protections for working mothers is provided in 32 states that have their own breastfeeding laws! State laws are in addition to the federal laws. Find each state’s specific workplace breastfeeding laws here.
The federal law mandates that employers shall provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breastmilk in a place other than a bathroom until the baby is a year old. That place must be private and free from intrusion. Employers are not required to compensate for pumping breaks, although if the employer already provides paid breaks and the employee uses them for pumping, the employee should be paid as usual. Small businesses with less than 50 employees are exempt. Larger businesses with 50 or more employees must comply unless the requirements of the law cause the employer “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” So far, no companies have been granted this exception. Most companies choose to comply in order to retain and support their working mothers, regardless of the law.
If the state law provides greater protection to the employee than the federal law, then the state law prevails over the federal law. The Healthy Horizons map below shows 32 states (plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico) that have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Some states (California, Florida, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming) have breastfeeding laws that implement an advisory council or allow businesses to designate themselves as “infant-friendly” or “mother-friendly” if they provide breaks and a place to pump. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location.
The laws in states that offer greater protections for workplace breastfeeding typically cover all employees in the state, not just non-exempt/hourly workers. The laws in these states may also have more specific requirements regarding breaks used to pump breast milk, such as one break allowed for every three hours worked in Texas. They may provide additional requirements on pumping accommodations, such as how close the room should be to an employee’s work area.
Some states are clearly excelling above the rest in regards to workplace breastfeeding protections, and we are seeing businesses in those states with strong corporate lactation programs that support working moms and the set up and maintenance of lactation rooms and pumps. These state laws go beyond providing general break times and a protected mother’s room. For example, Indiana law says an employer needs to provide cold storage to mothers for their milk. While the federal law gives mothers protection for up to 1 year, some states allow the mother to pump milk beyond one year. For example, Oregon gives protection up to 18 months, New York and Vermont give protection up to 3 years, and California has no time limit. Many states with breastfeeding laws have laws against discrimination and termination relating to a mother pumping at work.
California arguably has the most comprehensive state laws protecting breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. The Healthy Horizons chart below compares the California, Texas and New York state laws to the federal laws. California has stricter laws that provide breaks and a place to pump in close proximity to work areas for all employees, including exempt employees with no time limit. In addition, California has an enforcement provision that specifies a penalty of $100 for each violation. There is a federal penalty of $1,000 per violation occurrence in addition to state penalties. A violation occurrence is counted as each time a mother’s pumping session is impacted, which can be multiple times in a day.
Check with your state for the specifics of what your breastfeeding laws cover. Or contact Healthy Horizons to learn more about corporate breastfeeding programs, how to set up your own lactation room/mother’s room, or even about which furniture and hospital grade pump is right for your office. Regardless of what state the company has offices in, employers providing a breastfeeding mother with a mother’s room, breastfeeding wellness program, and breaks for pumping milk during the day in a private and comfortable space will benefit from the appreciation of their employees knowing they are working in a supportive environment.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “Breastfeeding State Laws.”
www.ncsl.org/research/health/breastfeeding-state-laws.aspx. National Conference of State Legislatures. 7 Sep. 2020. Web. 12 Oct. 2020
United States Breastfeeding Committee. “Federal Workplace Law.” www.usbreastfeeding.org/workplace-law. United States Breastfeeding Committee. 2020. Web. 12 Oct. 2020
U.S. Department of Labor. "Employment Protections for Workers Who Are Pregnant or Nursing." https://www.dol.gov/agencies/wb/pregnant-nursing-employment-protections. 2020. Web. 20 Oct. 2020