Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), covered employers with at least 50 employees are required to provide non-exempt, breastfeeding mothers with:
- Reasonable break time to express milk, as frequently as the employee has need to express the milk, for a full year after the birth of a child
- A shielded place, other than a bathroom and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public, that the employee may use to express breast milk
FLSA-covered employers with fewer than 50 employees are expected to provide non-exempt employees with reasonable breaks in a private area unless they can show that doing so would cause undue hardship.
Employees properly classified as exempt from the FLSA are not specifically entitled to lactation breaks.
The nursing breaks are not required to be compensated except to the extent that the employer already provides compensated breaks. As with all breaks, the worker must be completely relieved of duty when using the breaks.
Finally, the FLSA prohibits any form of retaliation against nursing mothers who file complaints, cooperate or testify in any investigation, or serve on an industry committee related to their treatment under the law. That includes any form of discrimination or adverse job action, including termination.
State and local laws may offer greater benefits
Employers who operate in multiple states should be aware that some states and municipalities offer stronger protections for nursing mothers. They may, for example, require greater accommodations for lactation or protect workers who are not covered by the FLSA. They may require all lactation breaks to be paid or extend the time that the breaks must be offered beyond one year.
Maryland does not have its own law regarding breastfeeding in the workplace. Virginia does, but it mirrors the federal FLSA.
Create mother-friendly workplace policies
Ideally, your accommodations for breastfeeding mothers will be part of an overall strategy to welcome mothers back to work after birth leave. Try to provide a clean, private place for lactation that will always be available for the nursing mother. It should be completely shielded from view and, ideally, will lock from the inside. It should contain at least a chair, a table and an electrical outlet. Some jurisdictions may require easy access to a refrigerator, as well.
Work with any employees who are pregnant or breastfeeding to develop an accommodation or set of accommodations that will work for them. A quick meeting with HR upon return from leave can make the employee aware of their right to accommodations and orient them to the lactation room.
If you have questions about setting up legally compliant policies for lactating mothers, contact your employment law attorney.