The Fair Labor Standards Act requires that nursing mothers be provided break time to pump breast milk — and public fire departments must comply with this law. The amendment that sets this rule addresses, among other things, the payment of overtime compensation, and was passed as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Here are the basic points of which you need to be aware:
Length of break. “[A] reasonable time.” What does this mean? Here is some guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor. It is lengthy, but useful.
The act of expressing breast milk alone typically takes about 15 to 20 minutes, but there are many other factors that will determine a reasonable break time. … Some of the factors employers should consider in determining whether the time needed for a nursing employee to express milk is "reasonable" include:
- The time it takes to walk to and from the lactation space and the wait, if any, to use the space;
- Whether the employee has to retrieve her pump and other supplies from another location;
- Whether the employee will need to unpack and set up her own pump or if a pump is provided for her;
- The efficiency of the pump used to express milk (employees using different pumps may require more or less time);
- Whether there is a sink and running water nearby for the employee to use to wash her hands before pumping and to clean the pump attachments when she is done expressing milk, or what additional steps she will need to take to maintain the cleanliness of the pump attachments;
- The time it takes for the employee to store her milk either in a refrigerator or personal cooler.
Number of breaks. Each woman’s needs may be different, depending, for example, on the age of the baby, the child’s nursing schedule, and whether the baby is eating solid food. The bottom line: The woman will need to know how many breaks she generally needs — as time progresses, the number of breaks needed may decrease.
Paid or unpaid. Is it her regular break time, which otherwise would be paid if she were not nursing? Then she must be paid. If it is a regular break time for which employees are not paid, or if it is additional break time, then no pay is required.
Requirements of location. It must be private, “shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public." Can a bathroom be used? No, absolutely not — no matter how nice it is.
Length of time accommodation must be provided. One year after the child’s birth.
Other possible requirements. A good summary of state laws addressing lactation and breastfeeding and be found on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures. It is important to see if there an applicable law in your state — if your state law provides greater rights to nursing mothers than the federal law, you must follow the state law.
Have you considered how this will work in terms of your physical location? What happens if a call comes in while the firefighter is using the lactation room? Is there a place that the woman can securely store the breast milk? How will you address co-workers who make fun of or harass the nursing mother? Does the mother have to give you a “break schedule”? Are there any sample policies available? We will address these issues in our next post.