California Workplace Breastfeeding Laws

California is one of the best states to be a working mother. It has many progressive employee-oriented laws in place that protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in the workplace. Unfortunately, not every employer in California obeys the state’s workplace breastfeeding laws. Some infringe on a mother’s right to breastfeed at work by denying reasonable accommodations, while others discriminate against or harass women who exercise this right.

Lactation Breaks

Two different laws protect a woman’s right to take reasonable lactation breaks at work in California: California Labor Code 1030 and Section 7(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Labor Code states that every employer in California must accommodate employees who desire to pump breast milk for their infant children while at work by providing a reasonable number of lactation breaks during the workday.

The legal definition of a lactation break is a net 10 minutes, meaning it begins when the employee reaches her lactation area and ends 10 minutes later. However, the US Department of Labor has stated that expressing breast milk takes about 15 to 20 minutes, plus time for preparation. A reasonable amount of time for a lactation break, therefore, may exceed 10 minutes. The law states that, if possible, this break time should run concurrently with break time the employer already affords the employee. Any breaks that are not concurrent can be unpaid.

Section 7(r) reinforces the same rules as Labor Code 1030. Effective March 23, 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires all employers in California to provide nursing mothers with reasonable lactation breaks after the birth of a child, for as long as one year after the child’s birth. Employers with less than 50 employees are not subject to these requirements, however, if they would pose an undue hardship to the company.

Breastfeeding Accommodations

In addition to required lactation breaks, California law requires reasonable breastfeeding accommodations. Section 7(r) has a requirement that employers must provide a place for employees to pump milk that is not a bathroom. The area must be shielded from view and free from access to the public and coworkers. This place could be where the employee already works, such as a private office, as long as it meets the requirements of the law. Failure to provide reasonable breastfeeding accommodations could lead to penalties for the workplace.

Breastfeeding Discrimination and Harassment

Despite multiple laws in California protecting an employee’s right to express breast milk in the workplace, many employers make it difficult for mothers to utilize this right. They may discriminate against lactating mothers, such as by excluding them from employee meetings, reassigning them to lower-paying projects or changing their schedules. Employers and coworkers may also harass breastfeeding mothers with inappropriate jokes, lewd comments or privacy infringements. In these situations, the employee has the right to file a breastfeeding discrimination or sexual harassment claim against the workplace in California with help from an attorney.

Dealing With a Violation of Breastfeeding Rights

If an employer in California fails to obey the state’s workplace breastfeeding laws, it will owe the employee an additional hour of pay at her regular wage for each workday where reasonable lactation breaks and breastfeeding accommodations were withheld. The wronged employee can file a claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Bureau of Field Enforcement online or at the closest office.

The Labor Commissioner will review the claim and issue a $100 civil citation to an employer who violated a worker’s breastfeeding rights. The wronged worker may also have grounds to file a civil claim against the employer for damages, including lost wages and emotional distress, for breastfeeding rights violations. If you are the victim of a breastfeeding rights violation in the workplace, contact our team in Los Angeles for legal advice.