California’s labor laws require every employer within the State to provide breastfeeding mothers with a lactation break to express milk for their own nursing infant. However, mothers lose this right if either the break causes a serious disruption in the employer’s operations, or, the child is not an infant. The law says that this break shall be for a “reasonable time.”
A “lactation break” is a time during the workday when nursing mothers express breast milk for their infants at the worksite. The breaks are sometimes referred to as “pumping breaks,” and the act can be termed “pumping at work.”
State laws on lactation breaks are just one example of the protections California affords to new mothers. Other examples include:
Lactation breaks are paid if the employee takes them at the same time as a paid break, like a rest or meal break.
An employer that fails to provide an employee with a lactation break of reasonable time is subject to a fine of $100.
Note that it is against the law for an employer in California to discriminate against a protected class of employees or applicants. This includes discrimination based on
State law says that “sex” includes breastfeeding. This means it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee for breastfeeding.
In the case of breastfeeding discrimination, the employee can file a civil lawsuit against the employer. If successful, she can recover:
Our California labor and employment lawyers will address the following in this article:
- 1. What is the law in California on lactation break time for nursing mothers?
- 2. How long are lactation breaks?
- 3. Is the break taken in a lactation room or some other private space?
- 4. Are these paid breaks?
- 5. Can employers get penalized for not providing a break time?
- 6. Can nursing employees have a claim for discrimination?
1. What is the law in California on lactation break time for nursing mothers?
Labor Code 1030 is California’s main law on lactation breaks for breastfeeding employees.
The statute says:
“Every employer, including the state and any political subdivision, shall provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate an employee desiring to express breast milk for the employee’s infant child each time the employee has need to express milk.”1
There are two exceptions, though, to this general rule. Employers do not have to provide lactation breaks in cases of:
- serious disruptions, and
- non-infant children.
There are also a few practical considerations to note when discussing these breaks and a company’s lactation policy.
1.1. Serious disruption
An employer does not have to provide lactation break time if it would impose a serious disruption, or undue hardship, on the employer’s operations.2
The law does not define “serious disruption.” It does say, though, that an “undue hardship” is “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.”3
This means an employer would have to make some type of lactation accommodations unless:
- the business faced some serious difficulty in complying with the law, or
- the company did not have the financial resources to provide these breaks.
1.2. Non-infant child
A second exception to LC 1030 involves non-infant children.
Employers only have to provide lactation breaks for nursing employees that are feeding:
- their own child, and
- their own infant child.4
“Infant” here refers to the age of the child. While the law does not say how young a child must be to be considered an infant, a lactation break must be given to express milk for:
- an infant up to one year in age, and
- likely an infant up to three and a half years in age.5
1.3. Practical considerations
There are a few practical considerations to note when discussing lactation breaks for nursing employees.
An employer’s rules regarding lactation breaks are often communicated in a breastfeeding policy. This is often found in an employee handbook or similar manual. Information may even be found in a handbook’s “frequently asked questions.”
Further, there is a federal law in the United States on employers providing lactation breaks. The law is found in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).
Federal law states that employers must provide lactation breaks for employees to express milk for their nursing child up to one year after a child’s birth.6 California law may provide greater protections since it likely covers infants older than one year of age.
As to breastfeeding in the context of COVID-19, please see the following links from:
- the United States Breastfeeding Committee, and
- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
2. How long are lactation breaks?
California law just says that employers must provide a reasonable break time for employees to express milk.
Reasonable is open to some interpretation and likely includes not only the time to express milk, but also the time to:
- get and set up a breast pump,
- walk to the lactation space,
- operate the pump, and
- store the milk in an appropriate container.
3. Is the break taken in a lactation room or some other private space?
The law states that employers must take reasonable efforts to provide their nursing employees with the use of a room or other location, other than a toilet stall or restroom.7
Further, this space must be in:
- a private location, and
- close proximity to the employee’s work area.8
In general, the lactation space must make for reasonable accommodations for the private pumping at work.
4. Are these paid breaks?
Lactation breaks are paid if the employee takes them at the same time as a paid break, like a rest or meal break.9
The employer does not legally have to pay the employee for the time to pump at work if it is done during a non-paid break.10
5. Can employers get penalized for not providing a break time?
An employer that fails to provide an employee with a lactation break of reasonable time is subject to a fine of $100.11
This fine is imposed for each violation of the law.
6. Can nursing employees have a claim for discrimination?
An employee can file a civil lawsuit against an employer if it discriminates against her for reasons related to breastfeeding.
California law says that it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sex or gender.
The law also says that “sex” includes:
- breastfeeding, or
- medical conditions related to breastfeeding.12
Note that the law not only prohibits discrimination in relation to breastfeeding, but it also prohibits:
- the harassment of women in the workplace, and
- the harassment of women for reasons related to breastfeeding.13
If a woman is successful in bringing a civil suit for discrimination or harassment, she may recover:
- compensatory damages, and perhaps even
- punitive damages.
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a labor and employment lawyer, we invite you to contact our law firm at Shouse Law Group. Also see our article on examples of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
- California Labor Code 1030.
- California Labor Code 1032.
- California Gov. Code 12926u.
- California Labor Code 1030.
- Bauman v. Beaujean (1966) 244 Cal.App.2d 384.
- Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 207).
- California Labor Code 1031,
- See same.
- California Labor Code 1030.
- See same.
- California Labor Code 1033.
- California Gov. Code 12926.
- California Gov. Code 12940j1.