California Breastfeeding Laws at Work

June 2, 2020

CDC reports show that just over 83% of new mothers breastfeed their child. More than half are still breastfeeding at the child’s 6-month mark. By the time a child is a year old, almost 36% of mothers are still breastfeeding their children.

As many new moms return to work long before their child is weaned, it’s readily recognized that working moms need a place to express and store their milk for their child. FLSA §7 is a federal law that requires employers to give nursing moms the time and space to express their milk for their child’s first year. California law extended this as some women breastfeed their children longer than a year. Per LAB §1030, employees are protected as long as their child is still nursing.

If you are breastfeeding a child, California’s laws protect your right to pump your milk at your office or workspace. There are exceptions that you should know, and both you and your employer have responsibilities to meet in terms of those laws. These are the things you need to know if you think your rights have been ignored.

Your Employer’s Responsibilities

Your employer has certain responsibilities when it comes to your rights to breastfeed. There are also exceptions. The breastfeeding laws apply to businesses with 50 or more employees. If the employer would face hardship coming up with a safe room or place for you to express your milk, the law is waived. If the breaks will disrupt the usual operations, the company is exempt. Make sure one of those exceptions doesn’t waive your employer from needing to accept your request.

What does your employer need to provide? Here’s the list of legal requirements involved in coming up with a room for working moms.

  • Your employer has to accommodate you with a permanent or temporary space. This doesn’t mean you’re sent to a bathroom or have to sit at your desk with a blanket or towel.
  • Your employer has to provide you with a room that has a table and outlet/s for an electric pump and things like your purse, snacks, and beverages. If outlets are not close enough to a table, extension cords must be provided to ensure you can reach the outlet.
  • You have to have a chair to sit in while you express your milk that’s near the table/desk and outlets.
  • The room has to have a working sink.
  • It also has to have a refrigerator or cooler where breast milk can be stored for the duration of the workday.
  • It has to be a room that’s free of customers and other employers walking through the room while you’re using it.
  • The room you’re set up in cannot have any hazardous materials. It had to be clean and free of any safety hazards.
  • The room you use has to be as close to your work area as possible and has to be away from prying eyes.
  • If you’re set up in a temporary room that’s used for other things, such as a break room or meeting room, that break or meeting room has to be off-limits to other employees while you’re pumping your milk.

Some situations fall outside the realm of providing a typical space for breastfeeding moms to pump milk. If you work in construction, an office that’s shared by several businesses, or agriculture, it may not be possible for your employer to provide a room that meets those requirements. If that’s the case, employers are offered some leniency when creating an alternative option.

Examples of Suitable Spaces for Expressing Breast Milk

You work in a marketing office. The office has a break room, several private offices, a bathroom, a meeting room, a supply closet, and several cubicles. In this situation, the employer could use the break room as a temporary space or turn an empty private office into a room for nursing moms as long as a sink could be made available without it costing more money than the business can afford.

That’s an easier accommodation. Some businesses cannot easily provide the requirements set forth by California laws. While it may be easy for some businesses to turn an unused office into a lounge for moms who need to express breast milk, some businesses and industries will have a harder time.

If you work on a farm or in agricultural business, you’re outside and may not have an office building. In this case, you’re still allowed to have a private, enclosed area that provides shade from the sun. The cab of a tractor-trailer or farm equipment that has air conditioning would meet the exceptions allowed for that type of business. If there is a clean air-conditioned tack room in a horse stable that has a chair and desk that also has a cooler or refrigerator and sink area, that would work in a ranch setting.

If you work in construction where you’re at a job site, your employer may need to set you up in a private area within a construction trailer or on a floor where the other workers are currently not working. Either way, both have to offer a secure, safe, private location.

At a winery where the property contains several buildings, a private area could be set up in the vineyard owner’s house, in a facility that’s rented out for weddings or other gatherings, or space within a restaurant or wine store could be used. It just needs to be private, comfortable, and equipped with a table, chair, outlets, cooler/fridge, and sink.

In a large building that’s shared by dozens of businesses, multiple businesses could share one space per floor. For example, if you work in a small office in a renovated warehouse and there’s no room for a private room, a small space on each floor could be dedicated to creating a room for moms that several businesses share.

Your Responsibilities as a Working Mom

While California’s Lactation Accommodation laws do offer rights to a breastfeeding mom, but you also have responsibilities. When possible, you should time some of your breaks to correspond with breaks and lunch periods. If you cannot, your employer does not need to pay you for those breaks. You cannot sue your employer for violating the law if you aren’t being paid for breaks that fall outside your usual break times.

Don’t assume your employer knows your breastfeeding. You have to make a formal request to your employer. If you skip that step, you cannot claim your employer denied your rights. It could simply be that your employer was unaware you’re breastfeeding your child.

How Do You Ask for a Room for Expressing Breast Milk?

Check your employee handbook for guidance on California breastfeeding laws. There should be instructions on how to make your request for space for expressing your milk. There should also be instructions that tell you how to file a complaint if you feel your employer is violating your rights. If you don’t have an employee handbook, ask your supervisor or HR department for one.

You may be required to submit a written request for a room to use while you’re breastfeeding your child. Email that to your supervisor or drop it off in the appropriate office and note who accepts it. If there are issues, you want proof that you filed your request. When you get your employer’s response, keep a copy of it. If your request was denied, you want the letter if you file a formal complaint with the California Labor Commissioner.

What if your employer is exempt? You should make a formal request for breastfeeding space anyway. Even if the employer isn’t required to follow the law due to one of those exceptions, they may be willing to do everything possible to accommodate their employees. It doesn’t hurt to ask.

If they’re not exempt and refuse your request or don’t meet the legal requirements, you should seek an employment lawyer for advice. Consultations are free, so you don’t have to pay to get a better understanding of your rights in your specific situation.

Schedule a Free Consultation

Do not let the cost of an attorney keep you from seeking legal advice. Attorneys that specialize in employment law usually work on a contingent fee basis. This means that they do not charge you unless they win the case and you get a financial award or settlement offer. At that point, the lawyer takes a percentage of the money you’re awarded as the contingency fee. You can seek legal advice without paying an upfront fee.

A new baby should be a time of joy, not frustration. If you’re having problems getting your employer to recognize your rights to breastfeed and pump milk at work, Shegerian Conniff wants to help. We tirelessly fight for our clients’ rights. Please call us at 310-322-7500 to arrange a free consultation. Talk to an attorney and discuss the steps you should take to be certain you’re receiving fair and legal treatment at your workplace.