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What employment laws protect breastfeeding moms in California?

Among other stipulations, the Family and Medical Leave Act provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, without penalties, for Los Angeles working parents following a child’s birth or adoption. California and federal laws also protect the rights of breastfeeding mothers when they return to work after family leave ends.

In 2010, the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act was amended to ensure new mothers received breaks and had adequate accommodations to express breast milk while on the job. Federal rules define the minimum standards for employers. California’s lactation law is an expansion of the FLSA.

Under the FLSA amendment, employers with fewer than 50 employees are not bound by the lactation rules, requiring “reasonable” break times for non-exempt nursing workers to extract breast milk. There are no employee or employer exemptions under state law. All nursing mothers in California have a right to express milk at work, under certain conditions.

Employers do not have to compensate employees for these breaks, unless the time coincides with regular paid breaks or the mother continues to perform work duties during the nursing break. Federal law covers breastfeeding mothers through the first year of a baby’s life, but state law includes no nursing break cut-off date. Lactating moms also are ensured some privacy.

A designated room or area other than a bathroom must be available for working mothers to express milk without co-worker observation or intrusions. California rules additionally require the location to be in close proximity to the female employee’s work area. Employers can be fined for breaking the laws — $100 at the state level and $1,100 at the federal level per violation.

Employers may not harass, discriminate or retaliate against breastfeeding women who file internal or external complaints. Legal actions may be necessary to recover damages for FLSA or FMLA violations suffered by workers, which may include wage losses and job reinstatement for wrongful termination.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor, “Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA” Nov. 02, 2014

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