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Federal labor law contains protections for the rights of mothers to take the breaks they need to express breast milk at work. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) directs that employers give nursing mothers reasonable breaks from their duties to express milk for a year after they give birth.

Physical workplace requirements for expressing mothers

The FLSA also requires that mothers have a functional, adequate and safe place to pump. The space may not be a bathroom and must be private from the view or access of other employees and the public. The space may be temporary and not always dedicated for this purpose so long as when she needs to use it, it is available, and the employer meets the other requirements for the space.

Job protection for reasonable breaks

The employer of a breastfeeding mother must allow her to take “reasonable break time … each time such employee has need to express the milk.” This means that there is not a limit placed on the number of breaks – it depends on how often she requires breaks to express. The length of each break is what is a reasonable amount of time under the circumstances.

If a mother complains or files a lawsuit alleging an employer violation of this law, testifies in such a proceeding, or serves on a lactation committee outside work, the employer may not terminate the employee or otherwise discriminate or retaliate against her. These kinds of illegal retaliation also create a right to complain to the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) or to file a lawsuit.

Limitations on FLSA lactation accommodation protection

Unfortunately, this law only protects nonexempt employees, who are normally paid hourly. This means that the protections do not extend to exempt employees, who are mostly salaried.

An employer with 49 or fewer employees may be exempt from these requirements if they would create “undue hardship” for the employer, considering factors like costs, resources, nature of business and others.

Lactation breaks must not be paid unless they are taken during previously allowed paid breaks.

Maryland does not have a state lactation accommodation law, but Baltimore has an ordinance that may provide greater protections to mothers in that jurisdiction who work for covered employers.

An employment lawyer can give information and advice about your rights to pump breast milk during your work hours and about legal remedies if your employer fails to provide required accommodations.