From the moment your child is born, a new mom is protected by several laws that cover breastfeeding in general and breastfeeding in the workplace. Are you aware of the different rules that protect your rights?
General Laws for All Breastfeeding Moms
What can you expect when you’re a breastfeeding mom? Can you feed your baby anywhere or are there limits? Can you demand the hospital help support your decision or are you on your own?
Hospitals need to offer information on breastfeeding support services. Some hospitals can arrange to have breastfeeding consultants available during the mom’s stay. Moms have the right to accept or refuse these services.
Mom’s have the right to breastfeed in public. AB 157 Section 43.3 provides moms with the right to breastfeed anywhere the mom and infant are legally allowed to be. A mom cannot be told she cannot breastfeed in a public park, shopping mall, or other public building. Private residences owned by someone else are the only buildings where the law doesn’t apply.
California’s commercial airports must have a private room set aside behind airport security checkpoints for breastfeeding travelers. That room must have electrical outlets, provide a sink, cannot be within a public restroom, and has to have seating. San Diego International Airport’s Terminal One is allowed to have this room before the security checkpoint.
If a mom is summoned for jury duty, she’s entitled to opt-out for a year or longer with her written request per AB-1815. It’s deemed the separating a breastfeeding child and his/her mother qualifies as “undue hardship.” If you’re asked to be on a jury and you’re breastfeeding, make sure you make that clear.
Those are laws that protect all breastfeeding mothers. What laws apply to working moms?
Breastfeeding Laws That Apply to Working Moms
Breastfeeding benefits babies, but most moms find themselves needing the income. If you return to work, two breastfeeding laws help you provide your infant with a supply of breast milk while at home with a carer or at daycare. One applies to having the right to express your milk during the workday. The other applies to the space provided for you to pump your milk.
Per AB 1976’s amended section 1031, employers have to provide employees with a private room or location for expressing milk during the workday. This room cannot be a bathroom and must have a table, chair, and electrical outlets. There has to be a sink and refrigerator or cooler to store the milk. If the room is used by others, there must be a sign or something that you can put on the door to ensure privacy until she’s done. The room should be close to your workspace or office.
If an employer cannot provide a separate space without causing undue hardship. Hardship is usually linked to the financial cost of construction to build a new room or to convert a room to have plumbing and electricity. It can also be caused by a lack of space within the business. If there is a hardship, exceptions can be made. Still, employers have to do everything in their power to come up with this space. It might mean partnering with other businesses on that building’s floor that all employees on that floor can use.
The next law covers breaks for pumping milk. A breastfeeding mom needs to express her milk, her employer has to give her the break needed. The break begins when you’ve reached the room not when you leave your desk or workstation.
If it takes a little longer than a typical break, the extra time has to be given without reprimand. If you get a 10-minute break and it takes you 30 minutes to pump your milk, you cannot be punished for needing the extra time. But, that extra time does not have to be paid. If the company cannot give a break without disrupting business operations, such as a store where only one person is working, the breaks do not have to be offered.
While your employer cannot dictate the schedule you follow, the California Department of Health has an example schedule to help new moms get an idea of how to fit in three times to pump during their work hours. You pump before you begin work. Once the workday begins, take a break around 10 a.m., your lunch break, and an afternoon break at 3:30 p.m. Finally, pump once more after your day ends and before your commute unless you have a short commute.
Depending on the time you start your shift and how long you work, you may need to adjust these times. Ideally, you want to evenly space the times you express milk. Every 2 ½ to 3 hours usually works well.
Your employer cannot ask you for a note from your doctor to prove you’re breastfeeding a child and need time to pump your milk. Your employer cannot force you to pump your milk at your desk while you’re working. Your employer cannot put you in a crowded closet that has no seat, no table to put down your bag and breast pump equipment, and no electricity.
What Do You Do If Your Rights Are Not Being Met?
You’ve talked to your supervisor or HR department about your need to have space and time to express milk during the workday. You might be given time, but you’re told to use a bathroom or table in the corner of a break room where others freely come and go. You’re told no even though there’s room to set up a private space and enough staffing to cover your breaks, your company will not meet your needs. What do you do?
Make sure you stand up for yourself. You may be tempted to go out to your car rather than complain. It’s your right to have a private space for pumping milk and the time to do so. Fight for your rights.
Companies that do not follow the laws face fines. If they fail to give you the break needed, they may be forced to pay you an hour’s pay for each day they didn’t provide you with the break you’re entitled to by law.
There are three places you can file a complaint.
- California’s Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement (BOFE)
- U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division
- California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing Act (DFEH)
Pay attention to deadlines. If you file a complaint with the DFEH, you have a year to make your complaint. As there are deadlines, you may find it’s convenient to have an expert in pregnancy and breastfeeding laws in the workplace. Shegerian Conniff offers free consultations and can help you decide if your employer is following breastfeeding laws or if you do need to file a complaint.