What are my obligations to nursing mothers?

| January 17, 2018

You’ve got a business, and one of your employees has given birth and had a child. She’s breastfeeding, and you want to know what obligations you have to your employee under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Never fear: SmartSign is here to help. (Obviously, if you have specific legal questions, we’re not lawyers, and you should consult your counsel if there’s a specific issue you need help with.) There’re three big things you should know as an employer for nursing mothers.  (We also offer more in-depth guidance regarding lactation rooms.)

Mother Feeding Baby in Mothers Room

First, you should know that these are the national standards for accommodating nursing mothers; some states have more stringent rules, like California and New York. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must provide a private space shielded from view for nursing mothers to express breast milk, for one year after the birth of a child. A bathroom won’t cut it under the Fair Labor Standards Act, but temporary spaces screened off from public view will do. Creative ways to do this would be, for instance, to use an empty office, a conference room, or a simple curtain to provide the employee with privacy.


Second, under federal law, this breast pumping break is unpaid, but the employee can use paid break time to express breast milk. Thus, if you already offer 15-minute paid breaks for your employees, and an employee takes a 35-minute break to pump breast milk, the first 15 minutes would be paid, and the remaining 20 minutes would be unpaid. These breaks are available as necessary to express breast milk– as much as every two to three hours during the first few months a baby is alive.


Third, you can face severe penalties for not complying with the law, and face federal investigation. If a complaint gets filed, the U.S. Department of Labor may investigate you, and can fine you, especially if you retaliate against the employee. You may even get sued by the employee and be forced to pay damages, lost wages, and reinstate them if you lose the lawsuit.

Nursing Room - Vacant/Occupied Slider Sign

Of course, on top of all of this, allowing nursing mothers to express breast milk is the humane thing, and it’s good for employee morale. If you need to set aside a special room for nursing mothers, SmartSign has a full line of nursing mothers signs, available at the lowest prices on the Internet.

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