In December 2022, the PUMP Act (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act) went into effect. This new law amended and added to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which already provided for some break times and safe spaces for nursing employees to pump breast milk at work.
With the new December 2022 changes, however, Congress extended the reasonable break time and space protections at work to cover millions more of employees. The changes also provided for more remedies to employees if they have to bring a lawsuit to enforce their rights.
Break Time Requirements to Pump Breast Milk at Work
The law requires employers to provide SC employees with reasonable break time each time a nursing mother needs to pump breast milk at work. This protection is in place for up to one year after the child’s birth. This is not an unlimited amount of time for each break, but based on the “reasonableness” requirement, it would depend on the needs of the mother and child. While you can certainly agree to some sort of schedule for pumping, your employer must be flexible if needs change. Telework and remote employees receive the same protection.
An hourly nonexempt employee (normally entitled to overtime pay) must be completely relieved from duties while she is pumping. Otherwise, she must be paid for those hours worked. Fielding a phone call from a co-worker, manager, or customer while pumping is not being fully relieved from duties, and so the employee must be paid. For salaried exempted employees (ones not normally entitled to overtime pay), a company cannot deduct the time used for pump breaks from an employee’s salary.
Space Requirements to Pump Breast Milk at Work
The FLSA and PUMP require an employer to provide a place for nursing employees to pump breast milk at work. This place must be shielded from view, free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, available each and ever time is it needed by the employee, and not a bathroom. Having a lock on the door and a sign posted would help meet the privacy requirement. The room must have at least some furniture for the employee to sit and a spot to put the pump. Some provision for storing the milk safely needs to be made, whether a refrigerator or insulated bag.
For companies with more than one nursing mother on staff, the amount of people using the facility must be factored in when figuring out a location.
Which Employers Are Not Covered?
For companies with fewer than 50 employees, the company may try to avoid compliance with the law by claiming an undue hardship. This burden is on the company to show that an employee’s access to breaks and a protected area for nursing would unduly burden the company, perhaps by showing a specific difficulty or expense in complying with the law. These exemptions will be rare.
Remedies for Violations of the PUMP Act
An employee whose PUMP Act rights have been violated or who has been terminated for requesting those rights can sue for reinstatement and lost wages, along with liquidated damages (double damages), compensatory damages, and punitive damages. If a company takes adverse or negative actions against an employee for engaging in protected activity, then the employee can bring a claim for retaliation. Protected activity would include complaint to a manager, employer, or the Department of Labor, requesting payment of wages, exercising rights for nursing breaks, or testifying at trial.
If a company fails to provide a nursing space within 10 days of an employee’s request, then the employee can bring a lawsuit directly for violation of the PUMP Act.
If you are a nursing mother and have been denied your rights for reasonable breaks and for a safe place to pump breast milk at work, then you should reach out to a South Carolina employment lawyer for a consult immediately. The law provides protection against retaliation and a means to seek a remedy for a violation of your rights.