What nursing mothers should know when they go back to work

For nursing mothers, this time is precious, but, for those on maternity leave, the time to go back to work will arrive much too soon. And, as that time approaches, mothers likely wonder what their options are when it comes to breast feeding and pumping. Luckily, there is a law that protects nursing mothers at work.

The Fair Labor Standards Act

The Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) amended Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 207(r)). The amendment made it a requirement that employers provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” In addition, to requiring reasonable break time, the employer must also provide a place to breast feed or pump that is outside of the view of others and free from intrusions.

Bathrooms not included

Of course, some employers may think the bathroom fits that description, but the law specifically mandates that this breast feeding and pumping area cannot be the bathroom. For nursing mothers coming back to work after their FMLA leave (12 weeks), this means that this entitlement is still ongoing for at least another 40 weeks.

What kind of space is required?

Nursing mothers must be provided reasonable breaks and space, which is dictated by the needs of the nursing mother. The space itself though, while it cannot be a bathroom, it does not have to be a corner office, or be extremely large. It simply needs to be reasonable, shielded and functional for breast feeding or pumping. It also does not have to be a dedicated space, but it must be available exclusively to the nursing mother, as needed.

Are the breaks paid?

In addition, the break time does not, necessarily, have to be paid. If the employer is already providing paid break time, then the nursing mother can utilize that paid break time. The employer cannot bifurcate those breaks or mandate that the nursing mother only utilize unpaid breaks for nursing and paid breaks for non-nursing activities. Another important aspect is that these breaks must be completely free of work duties, and if it is not, then the breaks must be compensated.

For our Houston, Texas, readers, please understand that the failure of employers to follow these guidelines is considered workplace discrimination. And, violations can incur significant financial penalties, as well as alienate valued employees.

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