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Balancing Work and Breastfeeding

California employers must permit new mothers a reasonable amount of time to express breast milk (i.e., pump), unless it causes a “serious disruption” to the operations of the employer.

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There is no definition for what constitutes a “serious disruption.” Meaning, it is unlikely to be found to exist for a larger employer. Further, since the term is undefined, individual analysis is required to determine whether the break is in fact a “serious disruption” before it may be denied by an employer. Generally, this means that very few employers are likely to be found to meet this standard.


An employer must make a reasonable effort to provide a private area to express breast milk. The area must be close to the employee’s work area and may not be a toilet stall.


The length of the lactation break must be a reasonable amount of time. California law does not define what reasonable amount of time means, but federal regulations suggest that 15 to 20 minutes may not be enough.

Meaning, depending on the frequency of the need to pump during the work day, location of the lactation space, and other factors, a working mother may be entitled to up to 30 minutes to express breast milk.


If the nonexempt employee (i.e., eligible for overtime) takes a lactation break at a time other than her normal rest break, the employer is not required to pay the employee for time spent pumping. However, if lactation break occurs at the same time as a paid break (i.e., rest break), then the time must be paid.

Exempt employees must be paid their regular wages without regard to their taking time off during the day to express breast milk.


Additionally, employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with a condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. The law considers lactation a condition related to pregnancy of childbirth. This means, if necessary, an employer must transfer a mother to a less strenuous or less hazardous position, or even permit her to work from home if reasonable.

The law protects mothers who request an accommodation. Even if the accommodation is ultimately denied, the employer cannot punish, treat unfairly or fire a mother who requested the accommodation.

(This communication may be considered advertising in some jurisdictions. It is intended to provide general information about legal developments and is not legal advice.)

Written by

San Francisco, CA attorney. I advise on all aspects of employment law, from wage and hour and compensation issues, to FMLA and baby bonding leave.

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