Breastfeeding at Work: What Are Your Rights?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 14, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

So you've had a baby, and now you want to return to work. There's just one issue: You're a breastfeeding mom.

Doctors are all touting the merits of breastfeeding. Yet, you're worried that your employer won't fully support your choice.

How can you ask your employer for proper accommodations? Will your employer even accommodate you, or will you run the risk of irritating your boss and possibly lose your job?

The Right to Be Accomodated

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer must generally give "reasonable break time" to a non-exempt employee to express breast milk, for up to 1 year after the birth of a child. An employer must also "provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view" for the employee to express breast milk. However, there are significant exceptions to this law.

The truth is that while a woman has the right to be accommodated for pumping breast milk on the job, many people are still very uncomfortable with the idea of pumping and with the idea of breastfeeding altogether. In some cases, an employer will use other excuses to fire an employee, such as performance-based reasons.

But denying or ignoring a breastfeeding mother's request to pump milk on the job raises potential legal issues. Still, that doesn't stop many employers from making it difficult.

That may be because courts have issued somewhat confusing decisions in interpreting laws about breastfeeding rights.

State Laws About Breastfeeding at Work

Some states have specific laws in place that address the right of a lactating woman to pump milk.

For example, Colorado's law requires public and private employers to give breastfeeding moms break time, paid or unpaid, "to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to two years after the child's birth."

In one recent case, a Colorado teacher threatened to sue under this law; she was fired after she complained that she wasn't being properly accomodated for pumping on the job. While her employer claimed she was fired over her job performance, the parties eventually reached a settlement, The Denver Post reports.

On the flip side, a Texas case was tossed when the court said that there was no cause of action for "lactation discrimination" under federal civil rights law. While federal laws do protect discrimination against pregnant women, "Lactation is not pregnancy," the judge wrote, according to the ABA Journal. In other words, the breastfeeding worker sued under the wrong law.

As these examples show, breastfeeding laws can be a bit confusing. But one thing is clear: If you want to breastfeed or pump breast milk at work, you should have the right to do so.

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