Booby Traps Series: Federal pumping law leaves out millions of moms

Businesswoman Holding a BabyIf you expect to be pumping at work and want to know your rights, there is good news and bad news.

The good news is that one of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare” requires that, effective March, 2010, employers provide break time and a private non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to pump breastmilk during the workday, for one year after their child’s birth.  This was obviously a very welcome development for many moms.

The bad news is that the provisions of the law related to pumping were (reportedly unintentionally) added to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), limiting their effect to “hourly” employees, generally meaning employees who do not receive a salary.

This leaves out a lot of mothers.  An estimated 12 million moms, according to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee.

This difference in rights, in the words of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, “was unintentional and is causing confusion for employers and employees alike.”  (For help determining whether you are covered, you can call the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division at 1-866-487-9243, and ask for the Fair Labor Standards Act Advisor.)

breastfeeding law Fortunately some mothers not covered by the Affordable Care Act are covered by state laws.  Some states provide pumping rights that are as strong or stronger than federal law and cover more employees.  Mothers who live in those states have rights under whichever law is stronger.  But currently only about half of the states have workplace pumping laws, leaving moms in the other half who are not covered by the FLSA out of luck.

To rectify the inequity in federal law we’re encouraging support for the Supporting Working Moms Act, which would extend these pumping right to all employees.  To voice your support, use the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee’s site to ask your representative to become a co-sponsor of this legislation.

Another question is whether or not there is a penalty of some kind for employers who do not comply.  An enforcement action a few years ago by the Department of Labor would seem to indicate so, but there remain questions about what kind of violation would result in a penalty, and what that penalty might be.  A new suit filed by the ACLU on behalf of a Pennsylvania glass factory worker may provide some answers.

If you do feel that your employers is not complying with the law, we’d encourage mothers to contact the Department of Labor.

So, when it comes to workplace pumping law, there is good news and bad news.  We hope that we’ll have more good news to share soon.

For more detailed information about your breastfeeding rights, please see the website by acclaimed national expert Jake A. Marcus, JD.  

Have you been able to use your rights under federal law?  Are you a salaried employee and not able to take advantage of them?  Did your employer provide the break time and space you needed?


2 thoughts on “Booby Traps Series: Federal pumping law leaves out millions of moms

  1. I’m a salaried employee and ran into issues with my employer providing a suitable pumping location. There is a state law that provides for a private, non-bathroom space and break time for pumping, but my employer (a large company) basically ignored it. So in 2010-2011 when pumping for our older daughter, I was relegated to pumping in a bathroom! I’m an engineer and work in a male-dominated workplace, and was not only the first female employee to have a baby in quite a long time but was also the first in close to a decade who returned to work after maternity leave. This was a situation that they were wholly unprepared for.

    I started working during my maternity leave to try to get a suitable pumping space but in the end was told by HR that a single-room bathroom with a locking door was my only option in our building. The bathroom was otherwise still in use as a bathroom and my concerns about cleanliness/sanitation were met by my employer purchasing antibacterial cleaning wipes and putting in an air freshener. I hated pumping in there and cried many times but wanted to continue breastfeeding and feeding her breastmilk at daycare so I pumped in the bathroom for 8 long months.

    We got a lactation room in our building when that baby was 10 months old; it’s nothing fancy, just an interior office with a lock on the door and a mini fridge inside, but it’s so much better than a bathroom! I was able to pump for around 2 months in our new lactation room before pump weaning at a year, and am using the lactation room again to pump for our 5 month old. I bring my laptop in and work while pumping so I don’t skip a beat for my pump breaks (or have to stay at work longer to make up for time spent pumping).

    I put up with it because the federal law (which didn’t apply to me) and state law (which did) have no penalties or enforcement provisions, so in my opinion are fairly useless. I am the bigger breadwinner in our family and we NEED my job so I wasn’t going to risk it by threatening a complaint to the labor board or a lawsuit.


  2. I just posted a link to this article in my support group on facebook. Anyone who is a Working Pumping Mom is welcome to join us:

    I noticed this issue when reading the government fact sheet on the federal pumping laws ( and then came across this excellent article on the problem with the law. I seriously thought I must have been misunderstanding what the law said until I found this site which confirmed it!

    Thank you for posting this and for the link to “ask your representative to become a co-sponsor of this legislation.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s