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  1. Blog
  2. Working Mom
  3. August 25, 2023

Know Your Rights: How The PUMP Act Protects & Supports Working Mothers

What millions of breastfeeding mothers can expect at work

woman holding baby
Photo courtesy of Kristina Paukshtite

Working mothers have long been held to unrealistic standards in the workplace. Bias and unfair treatment often begin at the pregnancy announcement or maternity leave stage, giving rise to questions of the woman’s ability to fully commit to her work. And if she chooses to return to work post-leave, the scrutiny and lack of support only grows—especially so for breastfeeding mothers. 

Laws, policies, and accommodations are essential in ensuring these women have the resources they need to thrive at work. The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act, signed into effect at the end of 2022, is a federal law that’s expanding workplace protections for many breastfeeding employees. 

The legislative measure allows women to embrace both their career aspirations and their roles as mothers without compromise. It’s a much-needed change, since breastfeeding mothers have traditionally lacked sufficient support in the workplace, with many working sans the necessary facilities or time off to pump. In fact, 60 percent of new moms end up breastfeeding for less time than they plan to, with some citing “unsupportive work policies” as a reason why.

Here, let’s dive into how the PUMP Act is changing workplaces for the better for breastfeeding mothers. Learn the specific protections under the PUMP Act, how it affects different workplaces, and what employees should expect from their employers.

Read more: 31 Companies That Offer Paid Parental Leave Policies

What is protected under the PUMP act?

The PUMP Act builds onto previous legislation: the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act, a provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) passed in 2010 under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Under the law, breastfeeding protections—including providing a private area and reasonable break time to pump—only extend to hourly workers who qualify for overtime, and its enforcement was limited. 

The PUMP Act has expanded protections to nearly nine million more breastfeeding employees who were not previously covered (many salaried workers, teachers, farmworkers, etc.) and makes legal restitution much more accessible for workers. 

Under the PUMP Act, employers must:

  • Offer reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for their nursing child. Many women need at least three 15- to 30-minute breaks in an eight-hour workday.

  • Provide a non-bathroom space to pump at work that is “shielded from view and free from intrusion,” meaning it’s away from any windows or cameras. The law does not, however, require employers to provide a room specifically dedicated to lactation.

  • Count the time pumping as hours worked for purposes of overtime pay. Employers aren’t required to pay for the time an employee spends pumping, but the time spent pumping must be considered hours worked if the employee is also partially working.

The bill applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. It also applies to employers with fewer than 15 employees if they are subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). However, contract workers are still not covered by the PUMP Act, and neither are pilots and flight attendants after the airline industry lobbied against the bill due to safety concerns.

What happens if employers are in violation of the PUMP Act?

The bill allows employees the right to file a lawsuit immediately if their employer doesn’t comply with the law. This is especially important given that 60 percent of women reported their employers did not comply with the initial Break Time Act.

If employees don’t feel like they have adequate time or space to pump, they should let their employer know they’re not complying with legal requirements. 

Here’s an email template breastfeeding mothers can use to advocate for their rights:

Hi (Employer's name),

I wanted to discuss an important matter that I believe is essential for the wellbeing of both myself and other working mothers at (company name). As you may know, I recently became a mother, and I am planning to continue breastfeeding my baby. In light of this, I’ve been researching the PUMP Act, a bill that safeguards the rights of breastfeeding employees. 

To comply with the legislation, I kindly request that we designate a private, clean space that is not a bathroom for lactation purposes. Having such a space would provide me and other breastfeeding mothers the privacy and comfort we need. I would also greatly appreciate the possibility of adjusting my break times to allow for two shorter breaks, so I can express milk while maintaining my work responsibilities.

I believe that ensuring compliance with this legislation is not only in line with best practices but also contributes to a supportive, inclusive work environment. I truly value the positive work environment at (company name) and would love to schedule a time to discuss these matters further. 

Thank you,

(Your name)

If there is no change in compliance after 10 days, workers can file a lawsuit. Other legal recourse options include filing a complaint with the Department of Labor, state labor enforcement agencies, or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Read more: How to Report Discrimination at Work

Why is the PUMP Act so groundbreaking for working mothers?

The PUMP Act closes the legal loopholes of previous laws that left one in four women of childbearing age without federal protection of their right to break time and a private space to pump during the workday. Although new, the act is expected to have an immediate positive impact on women at work.

The CDC reports most babies (about 83 percent) born in 2019 were being breastfed after birth, but as mothers returned to work, breastfeeding rates dropped. At six months old, only about 56 percent of babies were still being breastfed. The PUMP Act will make it easier for women to continue breastfeeding after they return to work, which has been shown to have a number of health benefits for both mothers and infants, and will help increase job satisfaction and retention of breastfeeding mothers, who are more likely to stay in the workforce if they are able to continue breastfeeding.

Historically, women have suffered direct economic consequences as a result of not being able to breastfeed at work. According to the Center for WorkLife Law, 74 percent of breastfeeding discrimination cases over the past decade involved claims of economic harm, and 63 percent of cases resulted in job loss through firing or resignation. The PUMP Act will help to reduce some of the financial stress that many breastfeeding mothers experience when they are at work. 

It’ll also ease some of the emotional anxiety working mothers face after maternity leave. Pumping is an integral aspect of effective return-to-work policies, says Kristine Knutter, communications coach and founder of communication skills training company Express to Impress. “One of the most important ways an employer can support women returning to work is by giving them a physical private space to pump.”

In the U.S., where there is no federal program for paid parental leave, legislation like the PUMP Act is imperative for supporting working mothers and will advance compliant companies one step closer to being fully inclusive and equitable. 

Read more: How to Balance Building a Career While Being a Full-Time Mom

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