Are Employers Required to Give Break Time to Nursing Mothers?

breastfeeding-at-workBy:  TIMOTHY C. HAUGHEE

JANUARY 7, 2014

Last month, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced that a Wawa convenience store located in Pennsylvania violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by firing an employee who complained that the company had not given her flexibility during the workday for her to express her breast milk in an acceptable workspace.  As a result of the DOL’s finding that Wawa violated the FLSA’s nursing mother provision, the company was required to reinstate the employee, pay back wages in the amount of $4,900, and restore the health benefits that she lost as a result of her termination.

The FLSA’s nursing mother provision requires most employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has the need to express the milk.  The space provided must be something other than a bathroom, and must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.  The employer is not required to compensate the nursing mother for the breaks; however, where the employer already provides compensated breaks, it must compensate its nursing employees the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.

In addition, Florida law provides that “a mother may breastfeed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether the nipple of the mother’s breast is uncovered during or incidental to the breastfeeding.”  Florida law also specifically exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws.

Employers are encouraged to become familiar with the various federal and state breastfeeding laws so that they can provide an inclusive work environment and avoid costly penalties for violating such laws.

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