According to the CDC, nearly 85% of mothers choose to breastfeed, but more than half stop short of their intended duration. Widespread lack of parental leave and workplace support are among the primary obstacles that prevent new moms from reaching their goals. Almost a decade has passed since the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require that employers provide the necessary break time and space required to express breast milk. However, these challenges persist for many women who are pumping at work.
Ideally, expectant mothers would know their rights before taking maternity leave. However, that’s not always the case. So it’s important to tackle these conversations with Human Resources before taking leave to ensure that clear expectations have been set on both sides. And it gives employers more time to prepare for your return. In addition, informed communication can greatly improve the likelihood of a successful pumping journey in the workplace!
What are the primary breastfeeding protections in place for working moms?
Employers must provide a dedicated place to pump, other than a bathroom or storage closet, that is private and does not put them in view of their coworkers. The dedicated space can be temporary as long as it meets that criteria. Pumping breaks must be allowed. But they do not have to be paid unless the mother is not completely relieved of her work duties. In other words, if you’re expected to respond to emails while pumping at work, the clock should not stop!
The frequency and duration of breaks can vary based on the company’s flexibility in schedule and the mother’s specific needs. Typically, mom will need to pump as often as her baby eats to maintain her milk supply. In many cases, that means pumping 3-4 times per day. These accommodations should be made for up to one year. Read here for more detailed information on federal and state laws pertaining to breastfeeding at work.
It’s important to note that there are some exceptions. For instance, companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempted if they can prove it would cause them “undue hardship.” Because the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law falls under FLSA’s overtime section, it only applies to non-exempt employees. This means it covers most hourly workers but not salaried workers. If you’re not sure if FLSA covers you, ask your supervisor or someone in Human Resources. Many companies choose to provide these accommodations even if you aren’t covered. And many are open to having a conversation about how best to support working mothers.
State laws may provide even more protection.
Additionally, the FLSA requirements do not override state laws that provide greater employee benefits and protections. Therefore, even if FLSA doesn’t cover you, your company may still be obligated to provide certain accommodations in accordance with state laws.
In 1993, Florida was the first state to legalize breastfeeding in public. Now, every state has laws establishing a mother’s right to breastfeed in public. Over 30 states have also elected to create laws that pertain to the workplace. And over a third of states take breastfeeding into consideration in regards to jury duty requirements. Learn about state laws specific to breastfeeding at work here.
Regardless of the federal and state laws in place, employees and employers must continue working together to support their breastfeeding coworkers better. Breast milk helps protect babies from various illnesses, such as SIDs, asthma, ear infections, and lower respiratory infections. In addition, breastfeeding moms heal quicker from childbirth and have a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.
There is also an economic case to be made for providing these accommodations. For example, companies that support pumping moms see lower turnover rates, fewer missed days of work, and decreased healthcare costs. Plus, employee loyalty and job satisfaction translate to increased engagement and productivity!
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