Federal laws protect pregnant workers from discrimination and create a system for unpaid maternity leave even if employers don’t offer paid leave as a benefit. California has even more protections for pregnant women and new mothers.
Much like pregnancy, lactation (the production of breast milk) is considered a protected medical condition. Your employer should accommodate your needs if you choose to breastfeed your child or pump milk while at work. What accommodation does California law provide for lactating workers?
Employers should allow adequate break time to express milk
Most new mothers who go back to work will have to pump breast milk using a machine. Some others with on-site daycare or who live very close to work may be able to have a child care professional bring their baby to their place of employment to nurse during the day.
Regardless of which approach you take, your employer should provide you with adequate breaks that last at least 10 minutes. They should also give you a private space that is not a bathroom in which to handle your lactation-related needs. You do not need a medical note to ask for this kind of accommodation.
What happens if an employer won’t accommodate you?
An employer does not have to give you paid breaks and can request that your lactation breaks overlap with your existing break schedule for work as much as possible. If they refuse to give you time or space to pump, you have the right to claim an extra hour of pay for every shift worked without lactation breaks.
If it becomes a habitual issue that affects your health or your career, you may need to take legal action against your employer for violating the law and discriminating against you.