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Employment break time requirements for nursing mothers

The Fair Labor Standards Act, first passed in 1938, offers workplace protections for employees. Among the many protections, the act outlines accommodations for nursing mothers who return to work after giving birth and wish to continue to express breast milk for their newborns. According to the CDC, the benefits are tremendous to a baby’s development and encourage the practice for all mothers.

In 2010, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, was signed into law that amended the FLSA to offer additional protections to nursing mothers in the workplace.

The law mandating break time for nursing mothers

Specifically, under the law, employers must:

  • Provide reasonable break time, outside normal break allowances, for employees to express milk for their nursing babies
  • In a place other than a public restroom
  • For up to 1 year after the birth of the child

Complex nature of the law

breast pump

Like most regulations, however, it’s important to note that protections afforded to nursing mothers under the FLSA are far from straightforward. There are many restrictions, limitations and exceptions involved.

For instance, the law stipulates that employers are not required to pay employees for the mandated break time as long as the break time for expressing breast milk is not in tandem with normal paid break periods provided to other employees.

Additionally, not all employers are required to provide the accommodation to employees. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are exempt and do not need to comply with the requirement if it would impose an “undue hardship.” “Undue hardship” is determined on a case by case basis. Generally, an employer’s financial ability compared to the resources available, size and structure of the entity, among others, are examined.

Since the law has many intricate areas, it is best to seek the guidance of a qualified employment law attorney for appropriate interpretation on the law.

Protections under state law

Along with federal protections for working mothers who are nursing, many states have passed their own variations that provide protections for women as well. For instance, forty-five states, including Florida, have implemented laws that allow women to breast feed in any public or private location.

Legal recourse

Any employer found discriminating against a mother asserting her nursing rights under the law, or found retaliating against a mother for filing a complaint, could be held responsible. Depending on the circumstances, remedies include reinstatement or lost wages for those terminated, or liquidated damages if a contract is involved.

Speaking with an employment law attorney to discuss remedies or recourse as it pertains to individuals circumstances is advised.