In general, whether a mother can pump breast milk at work is governed by several federal and state-specific breast pumping at work laws. For example, the federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law is a regulation that requires any employer who is covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to offer basic accommodations to mothers who need to breastfeed while at work.

Another example of federal breast pumping at work laws is the “Fairness for Breastfeeding Mothers Act of 2019.” This law provides that certain public buildings that contain a public restroom must also offer a separate lactation room (i.e., does not also double as a restroom) that is clean and available for breastfeeding mothers to use.

The state of California has even greater protections for new mothers who need to pump breast milk at their job. For instance, a section of California’s Government Code makes it unlawful to discriminate against mothers who are breastfeeding or have medical conditions related to breastfeeding and are either looking for a job or are currently employed.

In addition, one section of California’s Labor Code states that employers must allow breaks and provide separate rooms for new mothers who want to complete the breastfeeding process in private. An employer must make reasonable efforts to give new mothers a space other than a restroom to accommodate this request. This portion of the law also requires that the private area have certain features like a sink or refrigerator that is close to the mother’s workspace.

Finally, similar to federal laws, California also has a law that not only prohibits breastfeeding discrimination under the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), but also provides guidelines regarding options for legal recourse that are available to women who have experienced breastfeeding discrimination.

Does My Employer Have to Accommodate Me?

According to lactation at break laws, an employer has a duty to provide reasonable accommodations for a new mother. The employer must offer items, such as a private and sanitary environment for the new mother to complete the pumping process. While this area may be located within the new mother’s workspace, the area provided by the employer cannot be in the restroom.

As of 2020, California’s Labor Code was amended to include further guidelines about what employers must provide within the private breast pumping area. Specifically, employers must give new mothers a place to sit, a sink with running water, a refrigerator or cool space to store breastmilk, and a surface to put items required for pumping on for easy access.

This same section also requires employers to create a “lactation accommodation policy”, which must be given to new hires, included in the company handbook, and provided to any employee who asks about parental leave.

In some cases, an employer may be excused from having to provide reasonable accommodations. For instance, according to the law, if an employer has less than 50 employees and creating a reasonable accommodation would place a great financial burden on the employer, then they will not need to provide a new mother with reasonable accommodations for pumping breast milk.

Do I Need to Clock out While Pumping Breast Milk?

All California employees must allow new mothers to take a reasonable amount of break time to pump breast milk. However, there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is if the lactation break would cause “serious disruption” to workplace operations. The second exception is that these lactation breaks will only last as long as a child is an infant and still breastfeeding (at least one year, possibly extended to two or three years maximum).

As for whether a mother is required to clock out while pumping breast milk or not, the answer to this question hinges on whether an employer offers paid breaks. If an employer does provide for certain amounts of paid break time, then the breast milk pumping process should occur at the same time as these scheduled paid breaks.

A new mother who works for an employer with such procedures and follows these guidelines will most likely not have to clock out while pumping breast milk.

If additional breaks are required outside of the paid break time, however, then the new mother will most likely have to clock out and an employer is not required to pay them for this extra time. Furthermore, even if the employer does explicitly require a new mother to clock out, their employer must still allow them to do so for the purposes of pumping breast milk.

On the other hand, if an employer does not provide certain amounts of paid break time, then the new mother will most likely need to clock out while pumping breast milk.

What If My Pumping Exceeds My Paid Breaks?

As previously mentioned, California state law does not offer clear guidelines about whether it is necessary for new mothers to clock out or not when the pumping process takes longer than the time allotted for a paid break.

Generally speaking, employers must provide new mothers with a reasonable amount of time to pump, even if that time exceeds the paid breaks. A good rule of thumb to go by is that if the pumping process exceeds the paid break time, but does not affect the quality of the person’s work, then it could be reasoned that they would most likely not have to clock out during it. However, this is only an observation and not definitively conclusive.

Some other factors that a new mother should discuss with their employer and an employer should take under consideration include:

  • Scheduling the lactation break;
  • The frequency of the number of breaks that an individual requires;
  • The amount of time it takes to gather pumping materials and to get to the lactation area;
  • The amount of time it takes to prepare for the pumping process;
  • The quality of the actual pump (e.g., some breastfeeding equipment is more efficient than others); and/or
  • The time it takes to get cleaned up, store the milk, and return to their designated workspace.

Ultimately, decisions will be left up to the preference of an employer and if a dispute should arise over it, a court will issue an opinion on a case-by-case basis. In other words, this type of decision is heavily influenced by the specific facts of a case. Thus, if a new mother feels they have been wronged by an employer or discriminated against in some manner, they should contact a local employment lawyer for additional guidance.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you are unsure about whether you are allowed to pump breast milk at your place of employment or not, you should consider contacting a local California employment lawyer for further legal advice.

An experienced California employment lawyer can assist you in resolving any workplace discrimination you may be facing, as well as can assess what options you may be able to pursue to obtain legal recourse. Your lawyer will be able to determine whether you have a viable claim and can explain the process of filing a civil lawsuit against your employer for discrimination.

Additionally, if you and your employer feel that you can work it out at a negotiation session, your lawyer can assist you with this process as well.