Research overwhelmingly demonstrates that breast milk is the healthiest option for babies. Beyond the many benefits for babies, expressing breast milk is also necessary for the mother’s well-being. Breastfeeding and pumping reduce the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis. By not pumping when necessary, milk tends to leak from the breasts, causing inconvenience and embarrassment, especially in a workplace setting.
Additionally, lactating moms may experience painful engorgement of the breasts if milk isn’t regularly expressed. Over time, this can lead to clogged milk ducts, mastitis, and even infections.
Despite these facts, employers have historically infringed upon the rights of breastfeeding mothers. After decades of discrimination, employers were mandated to make special provisions for lactating mothers after a 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Under this law, businesses with 50 or more employees must provide time to mothers to pump breast milk for their nursing babies until they turn one year old. Companies must also provide a private area other than the restroom for mothers to pump.
In addition to federal law, mothers in California are protected by additional provisions found in state-specific legislation.
California’s breastfeeding laws far exceed the basic provisions of the FLSA. The Golden State’s progressive legislation makes it mandatory for airports to provide lactation spaces and accommodate breastfeeding inmates in county jails.
In the workplace, Californian mothers also enjoy more entitlements than their counterparts in other states. Notably, California’s breastfeeding laws apply to all employees, while the FLSA only offers protection for hourly employees.
Federal law makes it easy for employers to implement unhelpful or inconvenient lactation spaces, but California’s labor laws hold employers to higher standards.
Additional provisions under California law include the following specifications for workplace lactation spaces:
Californian law also mandates employers to implement a lactation policy that must be shared with employees. The policy must be included in an employee handbook and provided to employees from their first day on the job. This allows employees to be aware of their rights.
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Your employer violates federal law if they deny your right to express your breast milk at work. Californian state laws are violated when employers fail to meet the additional requirements imposed by CA laws. For example, if the lactation space does not meet certain specifications or the employer does not implement and share a lactation policy.
Before taking any legal action, you should always try to handle the situation internally by speaking with HR or your supervisor. Bring the laws to your employer’s attention and let them know that they are in breach. Ask them for a time frame for becoming compliant. This should be done in writing, and you should retain copies of the conversation.
If they refuse to comply, your next step is to seek guidance from an experienced employee rights attorney.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) investigates complaints from workers who have been denied their rights. Once you initiate a claim, a WHD officer will go on a fact-finding mission to investigate your claim. They might make phone calls, but they could also visit your workplace to interview relevant parties, including supervisors, managers, and coworkers. If the investigator finds your claim has merit, they will meet with the appropriate personnel at your workplace and get them to commit to changing their practices.
Frequently, refusing rights to breastfeeding mothers in the workplace is more than a simple violation of federal law. Some employers treat breastfeeding mothers differently, which expands this simple violation to workplace discrimination. If your employer didn’t promote you because you expressed milk at work, verbally abused, demoted, or terminated you or forced you to resign, you have a complex case.
An experienced California employee rights lawyer has deep knowledge of the laws that apply to breastfeeding employees and knows how to apply them to your case to protect your rights. An attorney can help you file a claim, but they can also help file a lawsuit against your employer for discrimination and other violations that caused you harm.
The law uses the term ‘reasonable’ to describe break time because it’s challenging to draw an exact line between reasonable and unreasonable. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, it takes women up to 15 to 20 minutes to pump milk; however, each woman is different, and this does not include time to get to the space, set up, and clean the breast pump. Additionally, most women need to pump every two to three hours, translating to two or three times per eight-hour shift. In some workplaces, an employer might argue that 45 minutes is unreasonable, but 45 minutes could be a reasonable amount of break time in other workplaces.
It depends. Federal law does not protect breastfeeding mothers in public, but each state has laws that impact the legality of breastfeeding in a private business. Although breastfeeding in public is legal in California, a company can ask you to cover up when breastfeeding and ask you to leave if you refuse. Unfortunately, some breastfeeding mothers face public shaming and ridicule in parts of the United States, whether they breastfeed in public or private.
It’s important to note that you must distinguish between breastfeeding and pumping milk when thinking of protected rights in the workplace. While your right to express milk is protected until your child turns one, your right to breastfeed directly is not.
In California, your employer is obligated to accommodate your lactation breaks as long as they are reasonable. This applies to both hourly and salaried employees in businesses of all sizes.
After experiencing any type of harassment or discrimination in the workplace, it’s difficult to know where to turn and who you can trust. At the Malk Law Firm, we have successfully represented employees against large and small companies (all over California and Washington) in various labor and employment-related lawsuits.
Trust our team to fight for your rights in the workplace. Our employee rights lawyer is available for a consultation to discuss your options. Please reach out today to tell us about your case.