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What you want to know about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law

Earlier this month, ACLU Nationwide sent a letter to a Colorado employer, documenting multiple violations of the federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law.

While calling on DISH Network to provide adequate space and privacy for its nursing employees, ACLU sent a clear message to all employers in the country: it is the employer’s sole responsibility to accommodate nursing mothers.

Effective on March 23, 2010, “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers to provide break time and a place for hourly paid workers to express breast milk at work. If you are a nursing mother who works, there are several things you might want to know about this federal law.

Who is covered by the law?
The law applies to nonexempt employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Are the breaks paid?
The law does not require pumping breaks to be paid. However, if your employer already offers paid breaks and you use those breaks to pump your milk, your time should be paid.

What if the state already has a law?
When both the federal and state governments address the same situation, the stronger law applies.

Who is in charge of enforcing the law?
The Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is in charge of enforcing the law.

What are the benefits to employers?
Many employers do not realize that breastfeeding can save money. Employer benefits for supporting breastfeeding employees include:

  • Breastfeeding employees miss work less often because breastfed infants are healthier.
  • Breastfeeding lower health care costs.
  • Breastfeeding support helps employers keep their best employees so that less money is spent hiring and training new employees.
  • Breastfeeding employees who are supported in the workplace report higher productivity and loyalty.
  • Supporting breastfeeding employees creates a positive public image.

What does the undue hardship exemption mean for employees?
To apply for a undue hardship exemption the employer must prove that providing thee accommodations would cause “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Even if you work for a small business, you have the right to break time and a private space to express milk for your baby while you are at work. Even if your employer has few than 50 employees, they must comply unless the federal government has issued them an exemption.

What are the space requirements?
The law requires employers to provide a place that is not a bathroom It must be completely private so that no one can see inside the space.

How much time is “reasonable?”
The law recognizes that the amount of time it takes to express breast milk is different for every mother. According to the Business Case for Breastfeeding, it usually takes around 15 minutes to pump breast milk.

How often can you pump during the workday?
The law requires employers to provide time and space “each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

How long do you have the right to pump at work?
The law requires employers to provide these breaks until you bay’s first birthday. Some states, like Colorado, guarantee break time for longer.

What are some creative solutions for space?
You may consider:

  • Unused areas like a storage closet, empty office, or meeting room.
  • Manager’s office.
  • Area that can be partitioned or blocked by a curtain.
  • Company vehicle with window coverings.
  • Pop-up tents or temporary walls in the office.
  • Work from home, if possible.

What if your employer refuses to comply?
If your employer refuses to comply with the law, you can file a complaint by calling the toll-free WHD number 1-800-487-9243. For more information on filling a complaint against your employer, visit the website.

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