What the law says about breastfeeding at work

Sign for nursing room in a commercial building in San Ramon, California, November 21, 2019. Many retails and offices are providing dedicated rooms for nursing or breastmilk pumping by mothers. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

When a Madison Heights mom returned to work a few weeks ago after giving both to her baby, she was still breastfeeding the infant. Needing to work and also needing to provide breast milk her baby, she said she was told to do it in the bathroom. But, under the law, that's not legal.

Brianna Terry works as a lead masker at Spraytek, a metal finisher company in Madison Heights.  She recently had a baby and returned after six weeks of leave and needed a place to pump. When she asked her manager to use the manager's lounge, she said she was told to use the bathroom.

"He told me that they didn’t have anywhere for me to pump," she said. "He said, ‘You could just do it in the bathroom.’"

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The Affordable Care Act required employers provide a reasonable break time for a nursing child up to a year after birth, as well as a private place other than a bathroom to express breast milk. 

The 2010 law, which was part of the ACA, requires businesses to provide reasonable break time and a place that is not the bathroom:

  • An employer shall provide – 
  1. a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; and
  2. a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

Under the law, companies are not required to pay the employee during the paid break time.

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Terry said when she informed her supervisors of this they gave her the ‘quality room’ to double as her private breast pumping room. The 'quality room' is where the company checks parts. Then she said she was harassed by co-workers.

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"The problem then was the comments that were made – ‘Pumping doesn’t take that long; you are milking the clock,'" she said.

For two months, Terry said she was unsupported and eventually was told to go on Family Medical Leave until the baby was no longer in need of breast milk.

"HR told me the owner of the company wanted me to go on FMLA so pumping wouldn’t be a problem. She said, ‘By the time you come back she’ll be 6 months, and she quote won’t need you as much,’" Terry said.

Spraytek claims Terry had a problem with attendance and wasn't following the break time policy to breastfeed. The owner and HR director said they have gone out of their way to help Terry, who happens to be their first breastfeeding employee.

Right now, she is home on unpaid family and medical leave. Money is tight, but says she can feed her baby in peace, and she has no intention of stopping any time soon, especially because of the formula recall and nationwide shortage.

Terry said she wants to go back to work. Spraytek said they followed the law and have no plans to terminate her.