A nursing mother’s right to express breastmilk at work

Frank S. Clowney III

Many new mothers choose to breastfeed their infants while on maternity leave. The nutrition their infant receives from breastmilk is important to them.

Nursing mothers want their infant to continue receiving this nourishment when they return to work after maternity leave. To do so, they generally need to express breastmilk while at work.

Expressing breastmilk at work used to be problematic for women. They were not always granted time to do so or a clean, private place to do so. California law, however, addressed this problem.

A mother’s right to express breastmilk at work

The California Labor Code states that all employers in the state must give mothers a reasonable amount of break time to express breastmilk as needed. This break time can run concurrently with break time already provided.

If necessary, the mother must be given additional break time to express breastmilk. However, employers do not have to compensate her for this additional break time.

Employers also must provide mothers with an appropriate place to express breastmilk. This place must be clean, private and near the mother’s work area. It cannot be a restroom.

Consequences for denying these rights

If an employer denies a mother break time to express breastmilk or fails to provide appropriate space to express milk, they must pay the mother one hour of their regular pay rate for each individual violation.

In addition, an employer may be cited $100 by the Labor Commission’s Bureau of Field Enforcement for each day a mother is denied these rights under California law.

Employers cannot retaliate against nursing mothers who try to assert their right to express breastmilk at work at an appropriate location or who file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner.

Nursing mothers who are retaliated against for trying to express breastmilk at work can file a claim with the Labor Commissioner’s office.

Nursing mothers should not fear for their job

Many nursing mothers need time at work to express breastmilk so they can feed their child. They deserve a safe, clean space to express breastmilk and the time needed to do so as needed, free from discrimination and retaliation.

They should not be denied these rights and cannot be denied these rights under California law. If their rights are violated, they have options to remedy the situation.