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Know your rights as an employee and a nursing mother

Just as federal and state laws protect you from discrimination while you are pregnant, they also ensure that you are able to express milk for your baby while you are at work.

According to the Department of Labor, if your employer has more than 50 employees and cannot show that complying with the requirements would pose an undue hardship, he or she must provide you with both a private place you can go to express breast milk and break time in which to do so. California law imposes similar requirements but is more specific about what your employer must offer you.

What does federal law entitle you to?

For up to one year following the birth of your child, federal law requires your employer to provide you with a place to express breast milk in private, free from intrusion and shielded from view. It expressly forbids the use of a bathroom for this purpose but otherwise imposes few restrictions. For example, it is acceptable to temporarily convert a space for the purpose as long as it meets the other requirements.

The law also requires your employer to provide you a reasonable amount of break time in which to express breast milk. It is not specific about the duration or frequency of breaks, probably because this depends on your individual needs.

What does California law require?

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the California Labor Code requires your employer to provide you with break time in which to express milk, just as federal law does, and to make a reasonable effort to provide you with a location other than a bathroom in which to do so. It goes further to require that your employer provide you with access to a refrigerator and a sink in close proximity to your workspace.

Federal law does not pre-empt the laws of states, such as California, that provide you greater protections as an employee who is also a nursing mother.

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