The Reality of Pumping In The Workplace

My expectation of returning to work and pumping after my son was born went a little something like this: a designated room that locked with a comfortable chair and outlet for my pump and 20-30 peaceful minutes 3 times a day during which I would relax and let the milk flow.

Then I actually returned to work and found that reality did not quite live up to my expectations. I was constantly searching for or waiting to hear about an available space and living in fear of someone walking in on me in various states of undress. Discussing pumping with your employer can be awkward and uncomfortable, but if you make the choice to pump at work, stand up for yourself and demand the rights you are entitled to under the law.

pumping featuredOk, maybe don’t start with demanding things, but you should be open and honest with your employer about your expectations upon returning to work. If you already work for a company with policies that support the breast feeding mom, you will probably have an easier time. Of course, you might also be the first person in twenty years to have a baby at your company, and your HR person may have no idea what is involved with employing a pumping mama. In either case, you should take the time to educate yourself on what is required of employers.

Your right to pump at work may be protected by federal law. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended in 2010 to include specific provisions for breast feeding moms. Here are the highlights:

You are entitled to reasonable break time to pump, for up to a year.

Your employer does not have to pay you for this time (unless regular break time is compensated), but your employer does have to allow you to pump when necessary, for as long as necessary. Try to be as upfront as possible about how much time you will need during the day to pump. Don’t sell yourself short because you think you are inconveniencing your employer. Remember, this is a temporary situation that has benefits for you, your baby, and your employer. If you are comfortable doing so, bring work with you when you pump to cut down on missed time. I found it was a good time to catch up on emails or do busy work.

You are entitled to privacy while you pump.

This means that your employer has to provide you with a space that is shielded from view and free from intrusion. Said space does not include the ladies room or any other room that people need to come in and out of while you are pumping. A locked door is key, no pun intended. Despite the lovely sucking noise that will be coming from the room, people will still try to knock or open the door. A sign requesting privacy helps, but rest assured, it will not stop all potential intruders. Some co-workers may still hold a conversation with you through the door while you are pumping (true story).

Even though FLSA provides some protections, there are two major loopholes:

  • Companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to give you time to pump if doing so would cause the employer an undue hardship. If you are the only employee of a small retail establishment, you may have to get creative with your pumping schedule, but don’t give up!
  • The other major loophole is that FLSA does not apply to exempt employees. In English: the law applies to workers who are paid hourly, but not salaried employees. In theory, salaried employees should be able to take the time they need to pump during the day without being docked.

At least half of the states have enacted legislation relative to pumping and the workplace; unfortunately, Louisiana is not one of them, although our legislature has provided some additional protections related to breastfeeding.

For more information on pumping in the workplace, I encourage you to check out the following websites: The United States Department of Labor webpage on Break Time for Nursing Mothers and The National Conference of State Legislatures Breast Feeding State Laws.

About Rebecca

S-206Rebecca was born and raised in River Ridge, Louisiana and attended Mount Carmel Academy for high school. She then left her city to attend college in Atlanta, where she met her husband Adam. Adam soon realized that Rebecca and New Orleans were a package deal, and after a brief stint in Baton Rouge for law school, they settled in Lakeview and got hitched. Soon after came Bella the puppy, who reluctantly became a big sister to Zachary in 2013. In between running after an active 20 month old and terrier mutt and staying up to date on The Mindy Project, Rebecca works full time as an attorney. Workplace issues get her fired up, so if you would like to talk more, you can email her at miller.rls {at} gmail {dot} com.



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