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Federal law protects breaks for breastfeeding mothers

Having a child is a momentous occasion in a woman’s life. Many women here in Tennessee and elsewhere decide to breastfeed their newborns, which can become a complex process once they return to work. Expressing breast milk can become a frustrating and contentious process when an employer fails to provide breaks to breastfeeding mothers.

The first thing these mothers need to know is that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act protects mothers who wish to express milk while at work. If an employer denies a woman this right and/or fails to provide the appropriate setting in which to do so, the company could be in violation of the FLSA. In order to be in violation of the act, the employer must have at least 50 employees and the ability to accommodate breastfeeding mothers without it causing an undue hardship.

The FLSA requires employers to provide the time to express milk, along with a space free from intrusions, shielded from view and available when needed. The space cannot be a bathroom. Nursing mothers should know that their employers do not have to pay them for these breaks unless paid breaks are provided for all employees. In that case, mothers should be paid for the same number of paid breaks others receive.

If a Tennessee nursing mother working for a qualifying employer fails to receive the time and appropriate space to express milk, she could file a complaint alleging a violation of the FLSA and any applicable Tennessee laws as well. Workers have many rights under the law, but when it comes to breaks for breastfeeding mothers, these women may not even be aware they have rights. In order to help in the complaint process and the proceedings that may occur thereafter, a mother could schedule a consultation with an employment law attorney in order to gain a better understanding of her rights and legal options.