Federal law requires that you provide breastfeeding moms a room with a locking door--that is not a bathroom--to pump breast milk up until the baby's first birthday. This is pretty easy in a big office building with lots of space, but not so easy in a firehouse. The law, however, doesn't make an exception for difficulty, as the City if Tuscon found out--to the tune of $3.8 million. 

Carrie Clark, a Fire Paramedic sued when the fire department wouldn't allow her to transfer to a place where she could have "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk." 

Tuscon said it provided her places--such as the private bedroom of a fire captain. However, Clark pointed out that she would have to wake the sleeping captain if she wished to pump. Hardly a reasonable thing to expect someone to have to wake her boss and kick him out of his bedroom so she could pump breast milk. 

The court agreed with Clark, and said not only did the Fire Department fail to provide a place to pump but retaliated as well. 

What provisions do you need to make for breastfeeding moms?

Surprisingly, federal law only covers non-exempt employees. These are employees who are eligible for overtime (and remember, you can be salaried non-exempt). State and local laws may offer protection for your salaried employees as well, so don't just assume that that VP of finance isn't entitled to protection.

Even if you're not required by law, providing a place for new moms to pump should be on your priority list. It's understandable that Tuscon thought that they didn't need to worry about it--as the majority of paramedics/firefighters are male, and only a small portion of females would need these protections. It doesn't matter. One nursing woman is enough to require you to provide these accommodations.

If you want to retain your female employees--exempt and non-exempt--providing such a space will help you to do so. 

Keep in mind that the average age for a woman to have a first baby is 26, so it's not like you're dealing with high-level women with their own private offices. The open-office trend has made this even worse. And women who work in non-office jobs face even more difficulties. Looking back to my time at Burger King, there was only one room with a lock--the manager's office--and that had a big window. They would have to make modifications--at least covering the window--to be in compliance with this law should an employee need to pump. (I will note, that was 29 years ago--I'm old--and I'm sure they are up to date now.)

When my own children were born, I worked for a large pharmaceutical company that had dedicated nursing rooms, so it wasn't a problem, but as I was an exempt employee, the company wasn't required to provide that for me. (They did, of course, because it's the right thing to do.)

In addition to a room, you also need to provide a place to store breast milk. It does no good to pump if the mom is just going to have to dump.

You don't need to comply with this unless you have 50 or more employees or you can demonstrate a hardship, but think long and hard about not providing a place for your nursing employees. No matter what, it's for a relatively short period of time, and will help with your recruitment and retention.

If you are subject to this law (or similar local laws), keep in mind that Tuscon thought it wasn't important and got a $3.8 million judgment. It's got to be cheaper to comply.

Published on: Apr 17, 2019
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