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Help Your U.S. Clients Understand Their Rights in the Workplace

In the United States, Sunday marks Mother’s Day. The United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) honors this day through an annual campaign. This year, the USBC is focused on getting the word out about the federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law and what it means for breastfeeding employees, as well as issuing a call to action about the Supporting Working Moms Act, which would expand the law to millions of additional workers. Today, Dr. Kathleen Marinelli of the USBC is guest blogging at Lactation Matters to ensure our community is aware of the U.S. federal requirements and ways to support policy that can improve breastfeeding outcomes for U.S. families.

Help Your Clients Understand Their Rights in the Workplace

With more than half of women with infants employed, simple workplace accommodations are critical for breastfeeding success. By helping moms understand their rights as a breastfeeding employee and plan for their return to work, lactation care providers can support a successful transition so that working moms are supported to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.

The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law requires employers to provide break time and a private place for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day. The United States Breastfeeding Committee’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law compiles key information to ensure every family and provider has access to accurate and understandable information on this law.

Key Facts about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law:

  • Who is covered: The law applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • Space: Employers are required to provide a place that is not a bathroom. It must be completely private so that no one can see inside. Employers are not required to create a permanent dedicated space for breastfeeding employees. As long as the space is available each time the employee needs it, the employer is meeting the space requirements.
  • Time: The law requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time, recognizing that how often and how much time it takes to pump is different for every mother. Employees should consider all the steps necessary to pump, including the time it will take to gather pumping supplies, get to the space, pump, clean up, and return to their workspace. Employers must provide time and space each time the employee needs it throughout her work day.
  • Enforcement: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. If an employer refuses to comply, employees can file a complaint by calling the toll-free WHD number 1-800-487-9243.
  • Small Businesses: All employers, regardless of their size or number of employees, must comply with the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law. Following a complaint from a breastfeeding employee, businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be able to apply for an undue hardship exemption. To receive an exemption for that employee, the employer must prove that providing these accommodations would cause “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Until they are granted an exemption by the Department of Labor, they must comply with the law.
  • State laws: Employees who are not covered by the “Break Time” law may be covered be a state law. Contact your state breastfeeding coalition for help understanding the breastfeeding laws where you serve.

The “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law was an important victory for families, but breastfeeding success shouldn’t depend on a mother’s job type. The Supporting Working Moms Act would expand the existing federal law to cover approximately 12 million additional salaried employees, including elementary and secondary school teachers. We can all help make this happen! Use USBC’s easy action tool to ask your legislators to cosponsor the Supporting Working Moms Act with just a few clicks. Twelve million employees are counting on us! As Surgeon General Regina Benjamin advised us, “Everyone can help make breastfeeding easier.”

We know that workplace lactation support is a “win-win”, benefiting families, employers, and the economy, yet one of the major causes for the drop-off in breastfeeding rates is the lack of effective, reasonable workplace accommodations when mothers return to work. Employers that provide lactation support experience an impressive return on investment, including lower health care costs, absenteeism, and turnover rates, with improved morale, job satisfaction, and productivity. The retention rate for employees of companies with lactation support programs is 94%, while the national average is only 59%!

Breastfeeding and working is not only possible, it’s good for business. Find additional information and resources in USBC’s Online Guide: What You Need to Know About the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law and help spread the word about this valuable new resource with your clients by sharing this link:

Mothers, babies and employers everywhere will be glad you did!!

Important links and information:

Editor’s note:

This post addresses the need for workplace accommodations for breastfeeding mothers who return to work in the U.S. Workplace accommodations are critical for any breastfeeding parent who has returned to work, regardless of the country of their workplace.

Workplace accommodations are, of course, most critical in countries where paid leave is not readily accessible. A comprehensive comparison of maternity leaves around the globe can be found here and is also discussed in the chapter “Breastfeeding and Maternal Employment” of the Core Curriculum For Lactation Consultant Practice.

How do family leave and workplace accommodations impact breastfeeding rates in your country?

Marinellii-head-shotDr. Kathleen Marinelli is the Chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee, an independent nonprofit coalition of almost 50 nationally influential professional, educational, and governmental organizations, that share a common mission to improve the Nation’s health by working collaboratively to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding, where she represents the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. She is also a Neonatologist and Breastfeeding Medicine Physician at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, in the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center, and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

3 Responses to Help Your U.S. Clients Understand Their Rights in the Workplace

  1. ECBrooks 12 May 2014 at 07:21 #

    Thank you for this great “one-stop-blog” for use with those USA mothers we hear about — way too many of them — getting hassled at work for wanting to pump or BF. Another great new resource comes from the National Women’s Law Center, an organization that has worked with the United States Breatfeeding Commiittee on several breastfeeding-related civil rights matters:

  2. Ruth Vishniavsky 13 May 2014 at 21:01 #

    Hi Kathy, Thanks for your great article about workplace accommodation for breastfeeding moms.


  1. Key Facts about the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” Law | Center for the Childbearing Year, LLC - 5 June 2014

    […] the lack of effective, reasonable workplace accommodations when mothers return to work. Read this blog from the International Lactation Consultant Association that includes key facts about break times for nursing […]

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