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It is no secret that life has become increasingly difficult for mothers over the past half-century. Most mothers spend half or all of the day at work only to come home to work the second shift of housekeeping and caring for the kids.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we lived in a country where working mothers were provided with a private space and break time to nurse their little ones? This is the reality of working in the United States thanks to the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.
The Origination of the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act
President Biden signed the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act into law in late 2022 in unison with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Both acts were passed as components of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
PUMP is an acronym that is short for Providing Urgent Maternal Protections. Moreover, the word “pump” is a reference to the act of pumping breast milk for infant sustenance.
The legislation provides nursing employees with the legal right to nurse their young during break times in private areas. In short, the law facilitates the breastfeeding of children in private while at work.
Read through the language of the law and you will find it specifies that those who recently entered motherhood are provided with the opportunity to breastfeed or express breast milk for a child who is nursing for a full year after the infant’s birth. The law states such reasonable break time is available each time a mother who is at work needs to express milk.
Moreover, the law states that those who recently entered motherhood are legally entitled to an area at work to pump breast milk aside from a bathroom. The room in question must be shielded from the view of other employees. Furthermore, the language of the law also states the room used for employee breastfeeding is to be positioned and secured in a manner that does not allow intrusion from colleagues as well as customers and the general public.
The “Why” of the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act
The legislation closes the coverage gap that had rendered 25% of females of childbearing age without federal government protection of the right to pump breastmilk for infants in a private space during a break. The legislation extends the legal right for pump breaks in a private room to almost 9 million additional employees ranging from those working on farms to registered nurses, school instructors, and other contributors to the economy.
The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act also legally empowers employees to file a lawsuit against an employer for breaking the law. Before the passage of the Act, workers who were not provided with breaks for pumping breast milk for infants or a private space for such actions had no avenue of legal recourse to obtain financial compensation in a court of law.
Moreover, the Act is also important as it provides helpful semantic clarification. The letter of the law states that time spent pumping breastmilk at work is tabulated as time worked in the context of calculating both minimum wage and overtime if the worker is not fully relieved of her duties while pumping.
Delving Deeper Into the Specifics of the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act
The U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (or WHD) has provided in-depth guidance for employers and employees to better understand the pump at work component of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The WHD states mothers are legally permitted to take breaks whenever necessary to pump breast milk for their infant. The frequency and length of the breaks differ by employee.
The WHD states employers and employees are legally allowed to agree to specific nursing schedules in accordance with each unique employee’s pumping needs. However, the WHD also recommends that employers do not mandate that employees adhere to a regimented schedule. Moreover, WHD representatives insist that employers must provide recent mothers with nursing flexibility as their pumping needs will likely change as time progresses.
Is There Financial Compensation for Breastfeeding at Work?
Employers and employees should be aware that the time mothers spend breastfeeding at work may be unpaid. However, if local, state, or federal laws state otherwise, such pump breaks can be paid.
Both employers and employees are advised to sweat the small stuff of the standardized requirements for tabulating and compensating hours of labor as dictated by the FLSA. Employees are to be financially compensated for time spent pumping when not completely relieved from their work duties or when breastfeeding during a paid break.
Pump Room Accessibility
Aside from providing a private room that cannot be accessed by fellow employees and the general public, employers are also to ensure the room is available whenever employees need it. The room used for breastfeeding infants cannot be a bathroom.
The WHD recommends that all employers ensure pumping room privacy by hanging or illuminating a sign when the space in question is in use. Moreover, it is advisable to add a lock to the door to guarantee complete privacy. Finally, we would be remiss not to mention that employees who work from home and are monitored by a webcam or other telework monitoring device must also be completely free from others’ view when breastfeeding.
The Functionality of the Pumping Room
The WHD goes as far as stating the pumping room used for breastfeeding is required to have a place for a nursing worker to pump while seated. The room must have a flat surface aside from the floor that can be used to pump breastmilk. Employers must also permit employees to safely store their pumped milk while on the clock, be it in a cooler, a refrigerator, or a food container with insulation.
Employers are advised to provide electricity in the breast milk pumping room, ensuring nursing employees can use electric pumps as opposed to being limited to a battery-powered pump that takes time and energy to use.
It is also advisable to position at least one sink near the space where the pumping occurs, guaranteeing the employee is permitted to wash her hands and clean the pump’s attachment. Sink access also enhances the space’s functionality while decreasing the length of time necessary for nursing employees to pump while at work.
Are There any Exemptions to the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act?
There is a single exemption to the act though that exemption is limited to small employers and only allowed under specific circumstances. Employers that have less than 50 employees across the country can be exempt from requirements for pump time if they show that compliance for a specific employee would result in an undue hardship.
However, the onus of proving such hardship is squarely on the employer. The employer must demonstrate that the nuanced needs of the employee for pumping at work constitute an undue hardship due to financial factors for compliance or another difficulty.
Retaliation Against Those Who Breastfeed at Work Is Not Permitted
The FLSA has gone to great lengths to make employers aware that retaliation against employees who breastfeed at work or engage in other protected activities while at work is illegal. The WHD insists employers are not permitted to hold onto the time that an employee takes for pumping to meet quotas.
Nor can employers mandate that employees work extra hours to accommodate for time missed when pumping for their infant. However, special rules apply to employees of rail carriers and motor coaches.
If you have been retaliated against for requesting a break to pump, requesting a private space to pump, pumping at work, or anything else covered under employment law, do not suffer in silence. Our employment law attorney is here to help.
Contact Gomez Law Today