Does a nursing mother have rights to pump breast milk in the workplace?
Yes.  The Legislature granted mothers and babies such rights in 2013. This right exists for the first three years after birth of the child. The usual term for pumping breast milk is “to express” breast milk.

Why does the Legislature care about breast-feeding?
Research has shown that breast-feeding:

  • promotes improved health outcomes,
  • provides the best nutrition for the baby,
  • keeps a close emotional bond between mother and child,
  • saves money,
  • avoids health risks of baby formula,
  • results in greater ability for the mother to work, since breastfed babies are sick less often.

Vermont law supports nursing mothers.

What are the employer’s obligations to employees who are nursing mothers?

  • Time--The employer must provide reasonable time throughout the day for the employee to express breast milk. 
  • Place--The employer must provide an appropriate private space that is not a bathroom.

Does the mother get paid while expressing breast milk?
Only at the employer’s discretion. A collective bargaining agreement could provide for compensation.

Are there any exemptions?
There is no explicit exemption based on the size of the business. An employer is exempt only if the employer can prove that providing time or appropriate private space would substantially disrupt the employer’s operations. 

What can an employer do to help nursing mothers?

  • Understand the law
  • Inform employees of the new policy
  • Provide a clean, private place with access to electric outlets and a chair
  • Offer flexible breaks to nursing mothers
  • Apply for Breastfeeding Friendly Employer recognition

What are the penalties for violation?
The law can be enforced by the mother or by the State under the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act.  21 V.S.A. § 495b. Violators are assessed damages and attorney’s fees.

Do I have to allow time on-the-job for a mother to express her milk?
Yes, unless you can demonstrate that doing so would substantially disrupt the employer’s operations.  In most cases, employers can work out a schedule and suitable space.

What kind of space?
The space must be shielded from view.  The space must be sanitary and private—free from intrusion by coworkers or the public. The space cannot be a bathroom.

Do we need to have a permanent, dedicated space?
No. The employer can create or convert a temporary space. If the space is not dedicated to nursing mothers’ use, the space must be available when needed by mothers. 

Do we need to provide a space even if they don’t have employees who are nursing mothers?

But I’ve heard that there is a small business exemption from federal law for small businesses. 
Federal law provides a theoretical exemption for a small business with less than 50 employees where the business can show an undue hardship, but there is no such exemption under Vermont law.  Here is a description of federal law on breastfeeding in the workplace. Since there is no small business exemption under Vermont law, Vermont law dictates. 

Are there other Vermont laws that assist nursing mothers?
Yes. Vermont law gives mothers a right to breastfeed her child in any place where they have a legal right to be present -- see 4502(j).

Published: May 16, 2017 | Disclaimer