Breast Pumping Schedules in the Workplace

Working in HR means addressing a variety of important issues and maintaining a comfortable and productive environment among employees. Every employee who comes through the door has a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, as well as different personalities and personal challenges. For new moms, knowing when and where they will be allowed to pump during their workday is often a top concern.

Consider Sarah. A first-time mom returning from maternity leave sitting in front of you asking questions about pumping. Sarah has always been an amazing employee, exceeding expectations and working well with her team. Helping Sarah continue to be a productive employee means effectively addressing her new concerns. Doing so will help alleviate her worries and will allow her to better focus her energy and attention on work.

As an HR professional, it’s critical to be knowledgeable and compliant with the accommodations required for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Under the Affordable Care Act and Section 7 of the FLSA Sarah is entitled to breaks and a private space, other than a bathroom, for pumping or nursing (if her baby is on the premises). The space doesn’t have to be a dedicated pumping room, but she is entitled to a degree of privacy in close proximity to her work area. Legally, nursing employees need a space where they can be “shielded from view and free from intrusion of coworkers and the public.”

Proactively establishing a space solely intended for breastfeeding not only ensures that your company is compliant with the law, it also helps new moms transition back to work and supports your company’s family-friendly culture. If your office does not have space for a separate pumping room, an employee can use her own office or you may set aside a rarely-used conference room that she can reserve when it’s time to pump.

A common misconception is that breastfeeding mothers get special permissions to accommodate their pumping schedule. Sarah’s breaks don’t have to be paid if other employees aren’t getting similar paid breaks themselves. As her employer, you have to allow her the time she needs to express milk, but you can create your own policy regarding whether or not those breaks are paid—so long as the policy provides all employees with consistent terms for the amount of paid break time they’re afforded.

The duration and frequency of when a nursing mother needs to express her milk may vary; however, it is often necessary to pump or feed several times during the workday. Sarah’s pumping schedule will need to mimic her child’s nursing schedule at home. If she is unable to keep this schedule, she may begin to lose her ability to lactate and it can also become physically uncomfortable for her which may affect her wellbeing and morale at work. Making sure your team and Sarah’s fellow employees understand and respect her pumping schedule is critical for everyone’s success.

If you have 50 or more employees in your company, you are required to accommodate breastfeeding employees and their medical need and desire to take breaks. If you have fewer than 50 employees, the law varies. However, small companies are advised to think through and articulate a comprehensive breastfeeding policy. The Department of Labor grants a great deal of consideration to the needs of new mothers who request breastfeeding accommodations. Denying accommodations to breastfeeding mothers may only be justified if a company can prove that these would create a “unique hardship.”

Establishing and clearly communicating your breastfeeding policies to expecting and new moms reduces the stress of returning from maternity leave, helps create a supportive environment, and establishes a family-friendly company culture. For an employee like Sarah, her needs quite easily met with the right plan and policy in place. And, business as usual can continue seamlessly—she may even show you a couple of cute baby pictures!

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