One of my employees recently had a baby and is asking for several breaks during the day to pump breastmilk. What do I need to provide to the employee?
It is not uncommon for an employee returning from pregnancy disability leave or baby-bonding leave to ask for time off during the work day to express (or pump) breastmilk for the employee’s baby. It is important to understand what you, as an employer, will have to provide to an employee making such a request.
California’s Labor Code requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of break time to an employee for the purpose of expressing milk at work, so you will need to allow an employee to take breaks during the workday to pump milk. The employee can use rest and meal breaks to pump, but if the employee needs additional time beyond those breaks, you will need to provide it.
For nonexempt employees, any additional time off to pump will be unpaid; for exempt employees, the time will be paid. The only exception to the requirement to provide time off is if your operations would be seriously disrupted by providing break time to employees to express breastmilk.
Private Room Requirement
The Labor Code also requires that you provide employees with a place to express milk. You must provide a room or location, other than a toilet stall, that is close to the employee’s work area and that allows the employee to express milk in private. The location can be the employee’s regular work area, if it allows the employee to express milk in private.
Assess your workplace and determine how you can meet this requirement. If the employee has her own office, she can pump there. If not, other options may include offering access to an unoccupied office or conference room, or providing a dedicated lactation room for nursing employees.
In addition, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation for conditions related to “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions,” which includes lactation. This could include making accommodations to an employee’s work schedule if it does not allow sufficient time to express milk.
Just like any request for reasonable accommodation, you should assess each request individually to determine what’s reasonable under the circumstances. Consult legal counsel if you are considering denying an employee’s request for a lactation accommodation.
Lastly, breastfeeding and conditions related to breastfeeding are protected characteristics under the FEHA. Do not discriminate against an employee who is breastfeeding or has any conditions related to breastfeeding.
The Labor Law Helpline is a service to California Chamber of Commerce preferred and executive members. For expert explanations of labor laws and Cal/OSHA regulations, not legal counsel for specific situations, call (800) 348-2262 or submit your question at www.hrcalifornia.com.