Rights for Breastfeeding Mothers: Lactation Accommodation and Discrimination

  1. Am I protected from discrimination at my job because I am breastfeeding my baby or pumping at work?

    Yes. In California, discrimination because of breastfeeding or lactation is a form of sex-based discrimination and is prohibited by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). It is illegal for an employer to discriminate on the basis of lactation with respect to hiring, firing, training, compensation, or virtually any other aspect of employment.

  2. Do laws prohibiting discrimination because of lactation apply to all employers?

    No. California’s sex (or lactation) discrimination laws apply only to workplaces with 5 or more employees, as well as all employment agencies, labor organizations, state licensing boards, and state and local governments.

  3. What steps should I take if I believe I have been discriminated against because of lactation?

    • Maintain a detailed record of all acts of discrimination with the names of all witnesses.
    • File a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (no later than one year after the earliest discriminatory act).
    • Be sure to name as defendants all responsible parties. For example: the company, the harassing parties, your supervisor(s), etc.
    • Contact an attorney or the Work & Family Project helpline to discuss your legal options.
  4. Do I have the right to take break time to pump breast milk while I’m at work?

    Yes. California law requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of break time for lactating employees to express (pump) milk. Time used to express milk may be used at the same time as other breaks provided. However, employers must provide additional break time if needed, although the additional time may be unpaid. Employers are not required to provide additional breaks if additional break time would constitute a serious disruption to the employers’ operations.

    Similarly, federal requires that employers provide break time for nursing mothers who are not exempt employees under section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employees must be completely relieved of their duties during break time used to express milk or it must be compensated. If the employer has fewer than 50 total employees and providing break time would impose an undue hardship, then the employer may not be required to provide additional break time to lactating mothers.

    Each employee may require a different amount of time to pump breast milk or may require a different frequency of breaks. There is not a fixed amount of time or particular schedule that an employee is required to follow to have the right to take breaks to express or pump breast milk.

  5. Do I have the right to a private space in which I can pump breast milk at work?

    Yes. California law requires that employers make reasonable efforts to provide a private space, other than a bathroom, where breastfeeding mothers may express milk. Similarly, federal law requires that employers provide a space that is private, shielded from view, and free from intrusion for qualifying employees to pump breast milk.

  6. What should I do if I think my right to break time or a private space to pump breast milk has been violated?

    Employees can make a complaint to the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), or, if they are covered by section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

    If you have questions about your right to lactation accommodations at work, please visit our Work & Family Project or contact the helpline at (800) 880-8047.

For further information about your employment rights, contact the Work & Family Project.

Disclaimer

This Fact Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general information regarding legal rights relating to employment in California. Yet because laws and legal procedures are subject to frequent change and differing interpretations, the Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center cannot ensure the information in this Fact Sheet is current nor be responsible for any use to which it is put. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.