Understanding the law: workplace mandates for nursing mothers

Under the Family Medical Leave Act, pregnant mothers are given the opportunity to take time off to care for their new babies. However, upon their return to work, the Fair Labor Standards Act, or FLSA, mandates employers provide mothers the opportunity to continue to express breast milk, or pump, when needed.

In 2010, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was signed into law that amended the FLSA to offer additional protection for mothers in the workplace.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, breastfeeding, or expressing milk, is an encouraged activity due to its beneficial components to a baby's development. Often, many mothers continue to breastfeed even a year or longer after giving birth.

Breastfeeding in the workplace under federal law

Specifically, the language of the law states that employers are required to "provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express milk."

But, the language also indicates that employers must provide a sanitary place or specific location for the practice other than a traditional women's bathroom or toilet stall-even if the bathroom is private. The law states that the space must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by co-workers or the public.

In the past, this has been problematic because many employers only offered the available public restroom for nursing mothers.

Further, employers must provide time for mothers to express milk as needed that is above and beyond the normal allotted break time provided to all employees. However, the time given can be unpaid.

State breastfeeding laws

Many states have also passed laws that offer even greater protections for mothers returning to work who need to express milk for their babies.

A total of 24 states, including the District of Columbia, have specific laws pertaining to protection for women breastfeeding or expressing milk in the workplace. The District of Columbia has even incorporated breastfeeding as part of the definition of sex as it pertains to employment discrimination.

Repercussions and remedies

The law provides these rights for women, and employers are prohibited from taking any discriminatory or negative action against females for asserting these rights.

Further, employers are prohibited from retaliating against female employees who file a complaint or institute a proceeding against an employer for violations of the law.

If employers are found in violation of this provision of the FLSA, employees can seek legal remedies such as lost wages or job reinstatement, among others.

Speaking with an employment discrimination attorney

However, it is important to understand that every circumstance is different and this area of law is very complex.

If you feel you have been discriminated in the workplace because you asserted your rights as a nursing mother, contacting an experienced employment law attorney who knows the specifics of the law is the first step. A lawyer can review your specific situation and offer advice on a course of action.