Milk Those Breaks! About Pumping Rights at Work
Updated: Jun 9
Girl, I know pumping sucks. Literally. It sucks the life out of you. I hated pumping with a passion, and I still did it for a full year. We do it because we love our babies. Luckily, pumping is protected under the law. Let's make sure you know your rights so you can hook up your pump in peace:
Pumping Rights Under the California Labor Code
California Senate Bill 142 significantly expanded pumping rights starting in 2020;
A break must be provided each time you need to pump
Every employer must have a lactation space. This space:
Cannot be a bathroom;
Must be safe, clean, with a place to sit and a surface for a breast pump;
Include a sink with running water and a fridge;
Must be designated a lactation room first if it's otherwise used for other purposes.
Note that you can't be terminated or otherwise treated adversely for requesting these breaks or for complaining about your employer's lack of providing breaks.
Pumping Rights Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act
These were the existing rules prior to the expansion starting in 2020. These rules still apply to employers with 5 or more employees:
Breastfeeding mothers have a right to reasonable accommodations.
The right to pumping breaks is a different right from your disability or bonding leave. It should not be counted as maternity leave. These breaks are subject to a separate right, which is to receive reasonable accommodations as a nursing mother.
How To Protect Your Pump Breaks
I know these rights are great in theory, but can be difficult to put into practice. Even though you will need more breaks, you are still expected to get your work done. You are not protected from poor performance because of your breaks. Explain that you will do your best to make it efficient.
Buy multiple sets of bottles and tubes so you don't always have to do a deep clean of your gear after every pump. I personally always worked during my pumping "breaks," in fact, because I was uninterrupted these were some of the most productive hours of my first year back at work.
If you work in an office, I would explain it that way. If you don't work in an office, it's probably best to come up with a schedule so everyone knows where you'll be. You may need to have a personal chat with every person. Explain that you can't be interrupted during these breaks and to email you instead.
I'm happy California is protecting pumping mothers, because pumping is not fun. I vividly remember the thirst and the hunger and the exhaustion that comes with creating food with your body as well as the frustration from shlepping all of my gear.
And pumping around town is the absolute worst. Do you know what's not fun? Talking to senior male lawyers in defense firms about your breasts. I've had the following conversation during depositions countless times:
- "Hey where can I go express breastmilk around here?"
- "Can't it wait? I want to keep going with this deposition."
- "No. You see, breastmilk follows the principle of demand and supply. The more I wait, the less milk my breasts will produce which means my baby will have less food."
- "Uh... I guess the bathroom?"
- "It can't be the bathroom. Would you prepare your sandwiches in the bathroom?"
- "Well... uhh... [awkwardly coughs] ... I'll check if you can use an empty office."
- "Thank you. I'll need access to a sink and a fridge too."
Unless you've supported women during breastfeeding, you just don't know any of this stuff. It's extremely uncomfortable to have endless conversations about the fact that our breasts make food.
Our society just conveniently forgot this fact after telling all the nursing women to throw a blanket over it. Yet we keep doing it because we love our babies. And we love the moment at the end of the day, when we're finally sitting in the nursing chair with our sweet smiling baby falling asleep peacefully after a good feed and warm mama cuddles, and we think, "Okay let's keep going."
It's your right to decide to nurse your baby. If you don't want to, that's fine too. But if you do, make sure to milk those breaks.
Is your boss not giving you time or space to pump? Contact me here so we can set up a consultation.
DISCLAIMER - This blog is for educational purposes and to give general information and a general understanding of the laws relating to California employment law. It is not intended to provide specific legal advice, nor should you use it for that purpose. By using this blog you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Mamattorney or Gruenberg Law and you should not use this blog as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. We don't know anything about your particular situation, and the law has many exceptions. If you have a dispute with your employer, you need to consult with an employment lawyer.