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Breastfeeding in the Workplace

By Peter Levine posted in Employment Law, Law on September 12th, 2013

Health professionals and public health officials promote breastfeeding to improve infant health. Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from bacteria and viruses. Breastfed children have fewer ear, respiratory and urinary tract infections and have diarrhea less often. Breastfeeding also provides long-term preventative effects for the mother, including an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires breaks for mothers

It’s important for both employers and employees to be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires breaks for mothers to express breast milk during the workday. Breastfeeding requires supportive environments, including workplaces.

A provision of the FLSA requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of break time, as well as a private and clean space to express milk as frequently as needed and wanted by a nursing mother, for up to one year following the birth of the child. Here are some other requirements:

– The space must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers or the public.
– The use of a bathroom is not an acceptable space to provide to nursing mothers expressing milk.
– Nursing employees must have access to this space each time they need to express milk.
– The frequency of breaks needed to express breast milk as well as the duration of each break depends on several factors and may vary.

The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division has published an employee rights card that outlines the FLSA’s basic requirements and break laws and also includes a list of resources where additional information can be found. It also includes a QR code that can be scanned with a smartphone and shares how to file a complaint with the division in case a woman feels her rights have been violated.

This year the Labor Department is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The FLSA was passed in an effort to end oppressive child labor as well as establish minimum labor standards regarding workers’ “wages and hours.” The “nursing mothers” provision is just one way the FLSA has evolved over the decades to protect and strengthen an ever-changing and growing workforce.

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