California has several important legal protections for nursing mothers returning to work after maternity leave. It’s incredibly important that your HR department is aware of, and willingly compliant in, providing breastfeeding mothers with the benefits they are lawfully entitled to receive.
Consider this your CliffsNotes® guide to California employment laws that protect breastfeeding. Each section provides an overview on one of three main laws with direct links to the associated policy. These laws focus on ensuring time and accommodations to express milk, and they outline the consequences of employers not complying.
For a more detailed description of the laws, see the official list of regulations provided by the California Breastfeeding Coalition.
Complying with these laws and being proactive in protecting the rights of employees who are breastfeeding, contributes positively to your company’s image, culture, and employee morale.
Time for Employees to Pump at Work
Employers are responsible for providing nursing mothers adequate opportunities to breastfeed or express milk in the workplace.
Labor Code 1030: “Every employer, including the state and any political subdivision, shall provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee’s infant child”.
This law, titled “Lactation accommodation,” states that mothers must be given the necessary time to properly express milk. Since the duration of lactation can vary by person, the amount of “break time” is not defined by the law. To help understand what may be considered a reasonable amount of time, California employment attorney, Justin Lo, outlines several factors that should be considered in his article, “Workplace Breastfeeding Laws in California”:
- “The time it takes to walk to and from the lactation space and the wait, if any, to use the space;
- The time it takes the employee to retrieve her pump and other supplies from another location;
- The time it takes the employee to unpack and set up her own pump or if a pump is provided for her;
- The efficiency of the pump used to express milk (employees using different pumps may require more or less time);
- The time it takes the employee to wash her hands before pumping and to clean the pump attachments when she is done expressing milk; and
- The time it takes for the employee to store her milk either in a refrigerator or personal cooler.”
All mothers who request the time for lactation are legally protected from discrimination by their employers and/or fellow employees.
Mothers Must Be Provided with Clean, Private Spaces to Pump
In the state of California, employers must provide adequate accommodations via access to a private area where employees can pump or breastfeed. This space cannot be located in a bathroom and the employee cannot be punished, fired or treated unfairly for seeking accommodation.
Labor Code 1031: “The employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide the employee with the use of a room or other location, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the employee’s work area, for the employee to express milk in private.”
Failure to Comply and Employer Consequences
If employers fail to meet the labor codes’ standards for nursing mothers in the workplace, a civil penalty of $100 may be cited for each individual offense.
Labor Code 1033: “An employer who violates any provision of this chapter shall be subject to a civil penalty in the amount of one hundred dollars ($100) for each violation.”
Additionally, if the employer is found liable of discrimination, damages under this law can also include:
- Compensatory Damages: money for lost wages, unpaid wages or medical expenses
- Punitive Damages: essentially, money, to punish the employer for discriminatory actions
- Legal Expenses: reimbursement of the employee’s legal fees, including attorney fees, court fees and/or witness fees
Employers must be informed of the current laws that protect breastfeeding mothers not only because failure to meet the needs of nursing mothers can be costly when violated, but also because supporting breastfeeding mothers contributes to employee morale, a family-friendly culture, and ultimately the attraction and retention of great talent.