Federal law stipulates that new mothers must have time for nursing breaks at work. It’s important for women to understand their rights in this case, especially if they’ve been violated and steps must be taken to hold an employer accountable. The Office on Women’s Health offers the following guidelines so you can rest assured your rights are being honored.
Expressing milk is considered a biological need. As a result, the same laws that mandate meal breaks also cover nursing breaks. There is no regulation that says nursing breaks must be paid. However, if a woman uses a paid break to express milk, she must be compensated as she normally would. There are also questions regarding how frequent these breaks must be to remain compliant with the law.
Over an eight hour period, women will typically need to express milk every two to three hours. If a woman works a longer shift, she’ll likely need to take three or four breaks throughout the day. While the duration of nursing breaks can differ depending on the age of the woman, it can take up to 20 minutes for nursing to be completed. Creating a safe and secure environment for a woman can actually make nursing breaks progress faster since stress or discomfort can prevent a woman from expressing milk.
In terms of providing a woman space for nursing breaks, employers are not obligated to set up a permanent space for new mothers. However, the room must be private, both from other workers as well as customers. It must also be freely available whenever the woman is in need of a nursing break. Bathrooms are not considered a valid space for nursing mothers to express milk. The area must also be functional from a nursing perspective, with flat surfaces and plenty of room.