Benefits and Compensation, HR Management & Compliance

Workplace Protections for the Working Mother

Many working mothers strive to attain some form of work/life balance but may find their jobs don’t provide the flexibility and autonomy they need to reach this goal. As women, we often feel like we’re spinning one plate too fast and one plate too slow and will eventually drop them all. While many employers voluntarily provide a panoply of benefits to assist working mothers in making the transition to motherhood and feeling they can have families and still thrive in their careers, other employers have to be forced to do so.

Since its amendment via the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has required employers to provide reasonable break time for employees to be able to express breast milk for up to 1 year after the birth of a child each time the employees have a need to express the milk. Furthermore, adequate space must be provided that allows the employees to be shielded from view and not in a bathroom. Expanding on those rights, President Joe Biden recently signed into law the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act)!

The PUMP Act is the first stand-alone breastfeeding bill (S. 1658/H.R. 3110) to receive a recorded vote on the House and Senate floors. It took effect immediately once it was signed into law on December 29, 2022, but provided for a 120-day buffer, so enforcement-related provisions didn’t take effect until April 28, 2023.

In addition to the requirements already imposed by the FLSA, the PUMP Act requires employers to pay employees for pumping breaks if the employers provide paid breaks to other employees. It also provides that time spent pumping should be considered hours worked unless the employees are completely relieved of duties during the entire break. If covered employers don’t comply with these requirements, employees are entitled to a private right of action, with back pay, front pay, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees as potential remedies. With these amendments, the PUMP Act will give working mothers some much-needed support: being able to balance working and ensuring their children are properly cared for in their absence while having legal protection for themselves.

Another recent legislative change impacting current and soon-to-be pregnant employees is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which goes into effect on June 27, 2023. The PWFA is the first law to require employers to provide employees with “reasonable accommodations” for pregnancy-related limitations, even if those limitations might not rise to the level of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or state disability laws. “Reasonable accommodations” are changes to the work environment or the way work is performed that allow someone with an impairment or a limitation to participate in the application process or to perform essential job functions.

Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, the ability to sit instead of stand; a parking spot closer to the building; flexible hours; appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel; additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest; leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and the removal of strenuous or hazardous activities to the extent those activities aren’t essential functions of the job. Employers are required to provide a reasonable accommodation unless it would cause an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. “Undue hardship” refers to a significant difficulty or expense, not a mere inconvenience.

Covered employers can’t require an employee to request or accept an accommodation, deny a job or another employment opportunity based on the worker’s accommodation, require a worker to take leave, or retaliate against or otherwise interfere with the worker’s rights under the PWFA. The PWFA applies to private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, as well as to Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

The PWFA doesn’t replace other laws that apply to workers affected by pregnancy-related limitations. Title VII, the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the PUMP Act may still provide rights for covered workers. It’s important to note the PUMP Act and the PWFA aren’t preempted by state laws that may have more stringent requirements, so covered employers should be sure to comply with any applicable state laws, as well.

Overall, creating areas of protection for working and expectant mothers such as with the PUMP Act and the PWFA is a critical piece in creating a foundation of support for mothers who juggle work and family. They are also helping shift the corporate culture here in America in seeing the importance (and necessity) of providing support to working parents.

Tenia L. Clayton, an associate in Baker Donelson’s Nashville office, is a healthcare attorney with a focus on transactions and other corporate matters. She can be reached at

Aaliyah L. Locke is an associate in Baker Donelson’s Birmingham office and a member of the advocacy department. She can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *