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The federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law requires some employers to provide basic breastfeeding accommodations for some nursing mothers at work. These include a functional space and time for women to express milk each time they need to express.
The U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which covers most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees. This law requires employers to provide two basic types of accommodations: time and space, as follows:
The law recognizes that each woman will have different needs for milk expression breaks. Some flexibility will help make this work. Most women use their standard breaks and meal period to express milk, although it is not required by law. See Time Solutions for ideas and options for how to accommodate that time.
While employers are not required to compensate employees for milk expression breaks, some companies choose to do so. If an employer already provides paid breaks, however, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way other employees are compensated for break time. If extra time is needed, that extra time is then unpaid. Other options, though not required by law, are to allow women to work a more flexible schedule and make up extra time needed by coming to work earlier, staying later, or taking a shorter meal break. Some companies do not track extra break time needed. See Time Solutions.
The law does not require the private space to be a dedicated lactation room, though many companies find that a permanent room meets the needs of their employees. This website provides many solutions for permanent space, flexible space options, and even mobile options that can be considered in virtually every type of industry! See Solutions.
Employees who are covered by Section 7 of the FLSA, which includes the FLSA's overtime pay requirements, are entitled to breaks to express milk. Therefore, this law supports and protects employees eligible for overtime, and entitles them to break time and space to express milk. Employees who are exempt from overtime under Section 13 of the FLSA are not covered by Section 7 of the Act, and therefore are not entitled to break time to express milk under 7(r) of the FLSA. However, many employers seek to provide fair and equal access for all employees, and extend the benefits to any nursing mother at the workplace.
Currently 24 U.S. states and territories provide legislation related to supporting nursing women at work. Visit the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures to learn more about laws in your state.
Employers should carefully review the individual sections of both the federal and their state laws and compare them to see which sections are strongest. If a section of a state law provides greater protection, then that section would be the requirement. If the federal law provides greater protection in another section, then that is the requirement. For example, a state may extend protection to all employees, not just the non-exempt workers, while the federal law requiring private space may be stronger than the state law, which might only encourage private space.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is responsible for enforcing the FLSA and provides compliance assistance on the federal requirements under the law. This includes the full language of the law and all provisions, and information on how to comply. The DOL provides information on the requirements of the law, including a fact sheet and FAQs.
The United States Breastfeeding Committee has detailed information related to options and resources for compliance with the law.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also requires insurance companies to cover breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. This includes covering the cost of a breast pump. Check with the company insurance program to see what breast pumps are covered as part of these requirements.
Content last updated June 19, 2014.
Resources last updated April 15, 2014.