I have an employee who just had a baby and asked me about lactation at the office. Am I supposed to provide a private place for lactation?
California encourages employers to support and encourage breastfeeding and to accommodate employees who are lactating. However, employers are often unaware of the needs of lactating employees and how to create a work environment that adapts to those needs.
By law, employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee who wants to express milk. If possible, that break should happen at the same time as the employee’s usual rest period.
Generally, employers in California are required to authorize nonexempt employees to take a net 10-minute rest period for every four hours worked. The rest period’s duration is based on daily hours worked, and is counted as time worked, so the employee must pay for that time.
You are required to make reasonable efforts to provide your employee with the use of a private room to express milk—not a toilet stall. The area should be in close proximity to the employee’s regular workspace, and can be the same place if it’s private.
You are not required to provide a lactation break if it would “seriously disrupt” your operations. Be very careful here — you should speak with an attorney before you decide not to make accommodations for lactation. There are civil penalties for violating the California law, but there are also federal laws that provide a nursing mother reasonable break time and a private space to express breast milk.
Employees should have an open communication with their supervisors about lactation. Most moms are coming back to work after taking a leave, and they will need some time to adjust.
One of the biggest hurdles for breastfeeding employees is finding a private place at work. An office with a door, or a private conference room might work, if you don’t have the space for a private lactation room, although many companies are starting to provide such space. Restrooms are not ideal, as they can be unsanitary and often do not have electrical outlets necessary for electric breast pumps.
Employees who are not receiving mandated rest periods may file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner. For every workday when a mandated rest period is not provided, the employee may be paid one hour of pay at their regular rate of compensation. The Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement may also issue citations for violating California’s lactation accommodation laws.
Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros, LLP, in Napa, and can be reached at email@example.com. The information provided here is not legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information.