Pregnant women are protected from discrimination under Washington and federal law, but employers and employees may not be aware that new mothers also enjoy certain legal protections. One important issue that the laws address is the rights of breastfeeding mothers. Knowing these laws will help employers avoid employment lawsuits and will help employees protect their legal rights.
Federal Law Related to Breastfeeding
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) was amended in 2010 to add protections for breastfeeding mothers. This law applies to nursing mothers and lasts for a year after the mother’s child is born. The provisions of the FLSA include:
A requirement that employers give employees a reasonable amount of break time in order to pump breast milk
A requirement that employers provide a place to pump breast milk where the mother will not be seen or disturbed. This place cannot be a bathroom.
Notably, the FLSA’s break time provisions do not require an employer to pay the employee for that break time. In addition, employers are allowed to create a temporary place for mothers to pump breast milk, so long as it is available when the nursing mother needs it. The employer is not required to provide a space if none of its employees are currently breastfeeding.
The protections for nursing mothers apply to all employers who are covered by the FLSA. However, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can be exempt from these requirements if they show that the break time provisions cause undue hardship.
Washington’s Legal Protections for Nursing Mothers
Washington state laws also provide several protections for mothers who are breastfeeding. For example, one law specifically states that breastfeeding and using a breast pump do not count as indecent exposure. Another law prohibits people from discriminating against breastfeeding mothers in a place of public accommodation or resort.
In addition, Washington law also sets standards for when a business may call itself “infant-friendly”. In order to qualify for that designation, the employer must have a published workplace breastfeeding policy that includes:
-Flexible schedules or break time for nursing mothers
-A clean, safe, and private location that is not a bathroom where the mother can pump breast milk
-Clean and convenient running water for nursing mothers to wash their hands and breast pumps
-A sanitary fridge in the workplace where mothers can store breast milk
Between the federal and Washington state laws that address breastfeeding, it is clear that nursing mothers have many protections. Employers should know about these rights so that they do not violate them. Meanwhile, employees who know about these laws are better able to stand up for their own rights. For further information about workplace rights, feel free to contact an employment lawyer.