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Nursing Mothers' Rights

Though it's been done since the beginning of time, breastfeeding in public made waves this summer when our local paper asked for comments from its readers (see It's Your Turn: Facebook readers share thoughts on breastfeeding, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015; A mom's dilemma, Echo Press Sept. 4, 2015).

The waves have calmed, but they exposed misunderstanding about nursing mothers' rights. Let's clear the air, in particular with regard to the rights of mothers who need to express breast milk while at work.

First, nursing a child in public is perfectly legal in Minnesota. Breastfeeding is an exception to the state's prohibition of indecent exposure. Second, mothers who need to express breast milk while at work have the right to do so in most Minnesota workplaces. This has been the law in Minnesota since 1998, but these rights were expanded in 2014 as a part of the Women's Economic Security Act. The following will address some of the most common questions about this law.

  • What basic benefit does the law require employers to provide? Employers must provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.
  • When must the break be provided? The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee.
  • What space must the employer provide for the break? The employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.
  • Are there any exceptions to the law? Yes. An employer is not required to provide break time under this law if doing so would unduly disrupt the employer's operations.
  • Are all Minnesota employers covered by this law? Yes. The law defines "employer" to include "a person or entity that employs one or more employees and includes the state and its political subdivisions."
  • What other protections does the law provide to employees? Employers must not retaliate against an employee for asserting rights or remedies the law.
  • What remedies are available to an employee if an employer breaks this law? Employees may bring a civil action to recover monetary damages, plus their court costs and reasonable attorney's fees. They may also seek injunctive and other equitable relief to be determined by a court.
  • Is there a state agency that could get involved in disputes regarding this law? Yes. The Minnesota Department of Labor's Division of Labor Standards and Apprenticeship has been given the authority to receive complaints of employees against employers relating to this law. The division's role is to attempt to resolve employee complaints by informing employees and employers of the provisions of the law and directing employers to comply with it. The division is required contact the employer within two business days and investigate the complaint within ten days of receipt of the complaint.

For more information about the rights of nursing mothers or guidance on how to develop or enforce policies and procedures to address these rights, please contact me at taj@alexandriamnlaw.com.

The comments posted in this blog are for general informational purposes only. They are not to be considered as legal advice, and they do not establish an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice regarding your specific situation, please consult your attorney.

Copyright 2015 Swenson Lervick Syverson Trosvig Jacobson Schultz Cass, PA

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