Nursing Mothers Entitled to Breaks at Work

In modern times, it is a challenge for working mothers to balance the their work responsibilities with their family life. No one is more familiar with this challenge than a working mother who is nursing. Recognizing the difficulties faced by nursing mothers in the workplace, Congress recently passed an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") that provides nursing mothers with additional legal rights and protections.

The recent FLSA amendment, which was passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide: (a) a reasonable break for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child (for as long as one year after the child is born); and (b) a place (besides a restroom), shielded from view and free from intrusion, that can be used to express breast milk. This statutory amendment to the FLSA is one of many recent examples of legal developments that safeguard employee rights with respect to wages and hours.

One important clarification about this new law is that it only covers non-exempt workers (i.e., typically hourly workers who are entitled to overtime pay under the FLSA). This important point, among others, is spelled out in a Fact Sheet issued by the Department of Labor. However, some state laws cover all nursing mothers (hourly and salaried). Also, if an employee is covered by a state law that is more favorable to the employee, then the state law must be followed as well. For example, state law may provide for such breaks to be paid or to be provided beyond the one-year nursing period set forth in the FLSA.

The new law contains some protections for employers. For example, employers are not required to compensate employees for taking such breaks. Also, employers with less than 50 employees are not covered by the law if compliance would create an undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense in light of the employer's size, financial situation, nature/structure of the business, etc.).

If you are a working mother and feel your rights are being violated, or if you have questions about your rights under wage and hour laws, you should contact a St. Louis wage and hour lawyer.