Katlyn Foust Hunneshagen

At some point in time, a small business owner is likely to be approached by an employee about the need to pump or “express” milk for their nursing baby while at work. As a business owner, if you have never been approached with this topic before, you may fumble through the conversation, uncertain about the laws, and possibly even make a decision that could be adverse to your business. A quick review of the applicable laws, however, can not only help you avoid potential liability but make the conversation much smoother and your employee feeling better about her position in the workplace.

Federal Law

If your small business has more than fifty (50) employees, it is required to abide by the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law.” This federal law requires employers to provide “reasonable” break time for a nursing mother to express breast milk for a nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. In addition to providing reasonable breaktime, employers must provide a private location, other than a bathroom, for a woman to express breastmilk. Employers are not required to pay employees during this time, but if you, as the business owner, provide paid breaktime and the employee uses it to express milk, the time should be paid in the usual way.

There are exceptions to this law, most notably, it does not apply to most salaried employees. Furthermore, a business owner can apply for an exception to the law if they believe it will cause an undue hardship.

If you have fewer than fifty employees, your business is not required to abide by this law, but may be required to abide by Indiana’s more narrow laws regarding pumping in the workplace.

Indiana Law

Indiana law provides that, if a business has more than twenty-five (25) employees, the employer must provide a private location, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express breastmilk in privacy. Furthermore, the employer, to a reasonable extent, should provide a refrigerator or cold storage for expressed milk or allow the employee to provide her own portable cold storage device.

If the employer is a state or political subdivision, breaks must be paid. If your business is not, however, then like the federal law, you are not required to pay an employee for their break time.

The most notable difference between Indiana and Federal law is that the Indiana law applies to both salaried and hourly employees.

So, what does all of this mean?

I know what your thinking, “what is a ‘reasonable’ time?” The statute was intentionally left vague because the necessary time to express breast milk varies for each woman. In general, most female employees will require anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes for each break and anywhere from one to four breaks in any given 8-hour shift. These estimates, however, will not be the same for every individual and every situation. As a best practice, when an employee approaches you about the need for break time to express milk, open a dialogue regarding the matter. Ask them how long and how often they anticipate the need for break time. Come up with a plan the meets the legal requirements, but that also works for the employee and your business. Invite the employee to approach you to discuss their breaks if any issue arises. This will allow you, as the business owner, to not only plan accordingly but also to get in front of any concerns your employee may raise.

Should you have any questions about the above laws, please contact our office. We would love to work with your business to discuss your policies and their compliance with both the state and federal laws.

This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.