Women Claim Employer Denied Their Rights to Express Breastmilk on the Job
Female employees allege they suffered bacterial infections because of inability to pump at work
Even under the best of circumstances, many women would probably agree that returning to work while breastfeeding can be a challenge.
However, expressing breastmilk at work is even harder if your work schedule is unpredictable, your physical workspace doesn’t include easy access to a private and clean area, or your employer doesn’t appear to be sensitive to your needs as a nursing mother.
Even though federal law provides some protection for nursing mothers who need to express breastmilk at work, many female employees still find themselves having to fight for the time and the space they require to maintain a regular pumping schedule.
A recent complaint filed by four female pilots from Frontier Airlines is a good example of this. Let’s take a look at what happened in this situation and then discuss what the law says about nursing mothers’ rights.
Unable to get away
In the complaint against Frontier Airlines, four female pilots claim that the company discriminated against them by not doing enough to address their needs to pump breastmilk at work. Several of the women claim they suffered physical pain, clogged milk ducts, and the bacterial infection mastitis because they were unable to express breastmilk when it was necessary for them to do so.
The airline claims that it provided space for the women to pump breastmilk at various airports. However, the pilots state that they were either unaware of the spaces or that the locations were often as far as half a mile away from the gates they were assigned to.
One pilot claims that she attempted to use a designated nursing space once only to find that it was being used for storage. She attempted to use a vacant office instead but was repeatedly interrupted.
In addition, the women claim that they were unable to express breastmilk during long or delayed flights. One pilot states that she was disciplined for using her breast pump on an aircraft after her co-pilot complained about it.
The pilots state that they are not suing for monetary damages. Rather, their intent is to improve conditions for other female employees.
Who is protected under the law
A 2010 amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides some nursing mothers legal protection to express breastmilk at work.
The amendment applies to non-exempt employees (generally hourly workers who are eligible to receive overtime) who work for companies that must comply with the FLSA. Part-time employees who are non-exempt are also covered, even if they have never received overtime.
Additionally, the amendment “encourages” employers to allow all nursing mothers to take breaks to express breastmilk, even though exempt employees are not specifically covered.
However, salaried employees may have some legal protection in regards to expressing breastmilk as well. We’ll discuss other laws that may pertain to nursing mothers below.
What the FLSA says
The FLSA amendment requires companies to do the following:
- Provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers to express breastmilk for nursing children for at least one year after they give birth.
- Allow women to take breaks to express breastmilk every time they need to do so.
- Provide a private space, other than a restroom, for female employees to express breastmilk. The area must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from other people.
- Ensure that the location is available every time a woman needs to use it.
Women do not need to be compensated for nursing breaks. However, if an employee expresses breastmilk during a break that would normally be compensated, then she must still be compensated for that break.
Other laws that may apply
There are other laws that may provide some protection for nursing mothers despite their classification as exempt or non-exempt.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination against a woman based on current or past pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PDA also states that women who are lactating must be allowed the same freedom to address their needs as would any other employee who is experiencing a non-incapacitating medical condition.
Therefore, women who feel that they have been treated unlawfully due to breastfeeding may be able to make a claim under the PDA.
What it means to you
Issues surrounding expressing breastmilk at work may be particularly complicated, as they may fall under multiple federal laws. In addition, some states and municipalities have their own laws that may apply.
If you suspect that you’ve been discriminated against because of breastfeeding or denied your right to express breastmilk at work, it’s a good idea to speak to an experienced employment law attorney to find out more about your rights.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.