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The United States Department of Labor recently announced new rules that will require employers to provide accommodations for breastfeeding. The new federal rules only apply to workers who are eligible for overtime. According to SFGate.com, the City of San Francisco is also issuing new rules to its departments to facilitate employee breastfeeding.

This is good news all around: not only do working moms have new protections, but there is also evidence that facilitating breastfeeding improves employee productivity and decreases healthcare costs.

Many Workplaces Lack Breastfeeding Accommodations

In spite of these advances, many employees still face barriers when it comes to breastfeeding rights. According to a study last year from the University of Minnesota, three in five working mothers lack access to lactation accommodations. Only 59% of breastfeeding women have access to the break time they need, while only 45% have access to adequate facilities to express breastmilk. This is important, because mothers with access to the break time and facilities they need are more than twice as likely to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months (the minimum breastfeeding period recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics).

With so many working mothers facing obstacles to breastfeeding, it’s no wonder that lawsuits against employers by working mothers alleging workplace discrimination have skyrocketed in recent years, increasing by over 800%.

Required Breastfeeding Accommodations in California

Employees in California have more protections when it comes to breastfeeding laws. In fact, California has some of the most expansive legal protections for breastfeeding mothers of any state. Sections 1030 through 1033 of the California Labor Code require all employers in the state to provide reasonable break time for expressing breast milk. This break time runs concurrently with breaks required for all employees. In other words, if an employee can use her regular break time for expressing breast milk, then this fulfills the requirement of the law.

If a California employer needs to provide separate break time specifically for expressing breast milk, then this break time can be unpaid. An employer must make reasonable efforts to provide an employee with a private place near her work area where she can express breast milk. An employee’s normal work area can qualify if it’s private, but bathroom stalls do not. There is an exception to this law if providing breastfeeding breaks would seriously disrupt the operations of an employer, however. Unlike the new federal rules, California’s law is not limited to employees who are eligible for overtime. But unfortunately for moms, the penalties aren’t very steep: employers can only be fined $100 per violation.

Beyond break time and lactation facilities, there is an expectation that employers will do what they can to help breastfeeding employees do their job. Section 12945 of the California Government Code states that, while lactation by itself does not entitle an employee to pregnancy disability leave, it may require reasonable accommodation, such as a transfer to less strenuous work responsibilities.

California Law Prohibits Pregnancy Discrimination

In addition to these positive requirements of employers, California employments law also says that breastfeeding employees can’t be penalized. The California Fair Housing and Employment Act forbids employers from discriminating against their employees on the basis of sex; Section 12926(r)(1)(c) of the California Government Code provides that, for the purpose of unlawful practices, “sex” includes pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. Unlawful employment practices include failing to hire someone, firing them, passing them over for a training program, or discriminating in compensation or terms of employment, because the employee is breastfeeding.

California Breastfeeding Laws in the Workplace: For Further Reading

  • Break Time for Nursing Mothers via The United States Department of Labor
  • California Breastfeeding Laws and Regulations via California Breastfeeding Coalition
  • California Laws Related to Breastfeeding via California Department of Public Health
  • New Labor Law Has A Hidden Benefit For Working Moms via The Huffington Post

If you feel that your employer is violating California breastfeeding laws, or if you are being subjected to pregnancy discrimination, contact the expert employment attorneys at Hennig Ruiz for a free consultation.