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What are an employer's responsibilities for accommodating nursing employees?

Amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for up to a year after birthing a child. The frequency and duration of breaks required by nursing employees will vary, and employers should be very flexible with work schedules.

Generally speaking, nursing employees spend approximately 15 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours to express breast milk. As a result, employers may need to allow more than the customary breaks and time frames that are allowed under their current policies.

Employers are not required to compensate nonexempt employees for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk, unless otherwise required by federal or state law or municipal ordinance; exempt employees should never have their pay deducted for such breaks. Where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. If an employee is not relieved of all work duties while expressing, that time must be paid.

Employers must also provide a private place other than a bathroom where the employee can express breast milk. The private place must be shielded from view and free from intrusions from co-workers and the general public.

Expanded rights to sue for monetary damages take effect April 28, 2023, requiring most employees to provide notice of a violation to their employer and allow a 10-day period for the employer to rectify the situation before a law suit can be filed.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt if these requirements would impose undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relations to the size, financial resources, nature or structure of the employer's business.

Railway and motor coach operators and air carriers are covered under the law but with exceptions or delayed effective dates for certain employees. 

For more information on the requirements to accommodate nursing employees, see the U.S. Department of Labor's guidance.