What Are My Employer’s Obligations When I am Pumping at Work?

What Are My Employer’s Obligations When I am Pumping at Work?

What Are My Employer’s Obligations When I am Pumping at Work?

August is National Breastfeeding Month, with a theme of “Support Changes Everything.”  The United States Breastfeeding Committee developed this campaign in conjunction with breastfeeding coalitions, member/partner organizations, and individual supporters to generate advocacy for necessary policy and practice changes and “build a landscape of breastfeeding support.”  Because the United States does not have a federal law guaranteeing paid maternity leave, many workers return to their places of employment while still breastfeeding.  Accordingly, one of the most important sources of breastfeeding support may be your employer!  California law requires employers to provide certain lactation accommodations for employees to pump milk at work:

What space is my employer required to provide for me to pump at work?

Employers must make “reasonable efforts” to provide a room or other location that is not a bathroom “in close proximity to the employee’s work area.”  Importantly, this space must allow the employee to express milk in private.  California law permits this location to be a temporary location—for example, a manager’s office—if and only if the following conditions are met:

  • the employer cannot provide a permanent location due to operational, financial, or space limitations;
  • the temporary location is “private and free from intrusion while an employee expresses milk”;
  • the temporary location is used only for lactation purposes while an employee expresses milk; and
  • the temporary lactation location otherwise meets the requirements of state law.

The law also creates an exemption for employers who can show that the requirement to provide a room or location, other than a bathroom, would impose an undue hardship when considering the size, nature, and structure of the employer’s business.  If an employer is granted an exemption, it must still make reasonable efforts to provide an employee with the use of a room or other location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the employee’s work area to express breast milk in private.  That is, even small employers who may not have a separate space for employees to pump other than a bathroom are still required to find a way to make bathrooms a private place for employees to pump without resorting to the use of a toilet stall.

One court decision found that, where an employee regularly worked in two different locations 39 miles apart, the employer was required to make reasonable efforts to find her a location to express milk in each location because 39 miles was not considered to be “in close proximity.”  It was also not permissible to require the employee to pump milk in her car or in an attorney workroom in front of other individuals.

How much time am I allowed to take to pump at work?

California law requires that employers provide a “reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk.”  If you take other breaks during the day, your time spent pumping milk shall, if possible, run concurrently with your other breaks.  Additionally, employers are not required to provide break time if it would “seriously disrupt” the operations of the employer.

What should I do if my employer will not provide me the time or space to pump at work?

If you plan to pump at work upon your return from leave, it is generally helpful to initiate a conversation with your employer before you come back to work so that your employer can make any necessary accommodations and you can ensure that you feel comfortable with the arrangements.  If you believe that your employer is not following California law with respect to lactation accommodations and you are having difficulty finding the time or space to pump at work, you should call a California employment lawyer familiar with these issues.