What nursing moms need to know when returning to work

If you’re returning to work while breastfeeding, you’re probably somewhat stressed about how you’re going to manage expressing breastmilk during the workday.

It’s a problem many women have faced—including my wife after the births of each of our four children. I’ve seen firsthand how knowing what to expect can help ease the transition back into the working world.

One of the biggest questions you’re probably worried about: Where are you going to pump? Let’s take a look at what you need to know about lactation rooms before you return to work.

What are the laws for breast pumping at work?

Federal, state, and local laws may apply to nursing moms.

Federal breastfeeding laws

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), more often known as Obamacare, amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) to state that non-exempt employees must be given a private space other than a bathroom to express breastmilk during the workday. Generally, “non-exempt” refers to people who are qualified to receive overtime.

There are two important exclusions that working moms should note:

  • The law only applies to women who are employed by companies or agencies that are bound by the FSLA. That generally includes most enterprises, with the exception of small businesses. Companies with fewer than 50 employees may not be required to comply with the law if doing so would create an undue hardship.
  • Exempt employees (generally, those who receive a salary and who are not eligible for overtime) are not explicitly protected by this law. However, non-eligible women may receive some protection for expressing breastmilk under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which states that women who are lactating must be given the same freedom to address their needs as would any other employee who is experiencing a non-incapacitating medical condition.

Breastfeeding laws in Pennsylvania and New Jersey

Some states may also have laws that impact breastfeeding mothers. However, Pennsylvania does not.

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) extends the protection afforded by the ACA to employers of all sizes, not just those with more than 50 staffers. This law also makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman on the basis of breastfeeding.

See this fact sheet from the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition to learn more.

Breastfeeding laws in Philadelphia

Similar to the NJLAD, Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinances requires all employers to reasonably accommodate mothers who need to pump breastmilk during the workday.

Do employers have to provide a place to pump?

Yes. Under the ACA, covered employers must provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

What should be in a lactation room?

There are no specific legal requirements for what has to be in a lactation room, as long as the room is private and is available to the woman whenever she needs to access it.

In other words, a heavily used conference room may not qualify as a lactation room.

Employers may also set up a temporary space to accommodate nursing mothers.

Are lactation breaks paid?

Yes and no. Employers aren’t required to compensate staffers for lactation breaks. However, if a woman decides to pump during a break that would normally be compensated—say, a 15-minute rest break—then the employer must pay the worker for that time.

The employer is not required to provide compensation for breaks that would normally be uncompensated.

How many breaks can a nursing mother take during the workday?

The ACA states that women must be allowed to take breaks as often as needed, for as long a duration as needed, until the nursing child turns one.

What if your employer isn’t complying with the law?

If your employer isn’t making the necessary accommodations to accommodate your need to express breastmilk during the workday, it’s a good idea to speak to an employment law attorney about your rights.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.