What California Workers Need to Know About Lactation Accommodation

Returning to work doesn’t need to change what you feed your baby. You CAN continue to breastfeed and provide your milk to your baby. State AND federal laws protect your right to do so!

Graphic reads: Know Your Rights - Workplace lactation accommodation guides for California employers and employees

What the Law Says About Workplace Lactation Accommodation

California has some of the strongest protections for lactating workers in the U.S.

Your employer is required to provide you with reasonable break time and use of a room or other location (shall not be a bathroom) for you to express milk in private. Failure to do so can have costly consequences in California.

Existing federal laws provide additional protections. For example,  passage of the PUMP Act in 2022 now makes it possible to sue your employer for lack of compliance — even if you haven’t filed a formal complaint. A lawsuit can be filed immediately in the following circumstances:

  • For violations of the break time requirement.
  • If your employer has indicated they have no intention of providing private space for pumping.
  • If you have been fired for requesting break time or space for pumping.

As laws at the state and federal level continue to evolve, conflicts may occur. In those instances, the law offering greater employee protections ALWAYS outrank the others. The same is true when cities or counties create local laws that are more protective than their state’s, such as the San Francisco Lactation in the Workplace Ordinance. In California, the Labor Commissioner’s Office handles complaints related to lactation accommodation laws and conducts the investigations.

To maintain a sufficient milk supply and continue human milk feeding, lactating parents need to express breast milk every few hours. The average parent will need to empty their breasts 2 to 3 times in an 8-hour period.

Lactation in the Workplace
Common Questions from California Employees

I'm breastfeeding my baby and need to express milk at work. What are my rights?

In California, lactating employees are entitled to private space and reasonable break time to express milk at work. The space may not be a bathroom, must be close to your work area, and must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. The space shall also be safe, clear and free of hazardous material. In addition, the space must contain a place to sit and a surface to place a pump; have access to electricity or ways to operate an electric or battery-powered pump; and be located near refrigeration and a sink with running water.

Are lactation breaks paid?

Possibly. Your employer may, but does not have to, pay you for lactation breaks that take longer than your regular paid break time. So, if you usually receive a 15-minute paid break, and you take 25 minutes to express milk, your employer does not need to pay you for the last 10 minutes. However, reasonable travel time to and from the lactation space is not considered break time and should be paid. 

Is there a time limit for lactation breaks?

No. You may take the time you need for each break, as long as it is reasonable. You may also take breaks as frequently as you need them to express milk. You are not limited to taking lactation breaks during your normal break time, but time outside of your normal paid breaks does not have to be paid. 

For how long am I allowed lactation accommodation at work?

You have the right to continue to express milk at work for as many years as you need. Unlike federal law, California does not limit lactation accommodation according to the age of the child.

Can my employer treat me differently because I request or take lactation breaks?

No. It is illegal for your employer to discriminate or retaliate against you for breastfeeding or chestfeeding, requesting or taking lactation breaks, or having a medical condition related to lactation. It is also illegal for an employer to harass you because you are breastfeeding, chestfeeding, or expressing milk at work. Lactation breaks must be handled in the same way as other paid breaks at your workplace. For instance, if employees are allowed cigarette or coffee breaks without clocking out, lactating employees must also be allowed to pump without clocking out.

What should I do if my employer violates my rights or does not accommodate me?

Different government agencies enforce different parts of the law. To enforce all of your rights, you may want to file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement’s Retaliation Investigation Unit and Bureau of Field Enforcement, and the U.S. Department of Labor. As of 2022, the federal PUMP Act also allows you to sue your employer.


Legal Aid At Work provides support to low-wage workers who have questions about workplace lactation accommodation or believe their rights are being violated. The California Work and Family Coalition offers a resource hub with information for all workers. The UC Center for Worklife Law also has several resources to support you in asserting your rights.

How do I talk with my employer about lactation accommodation?

Communication is important in terms of asserting your rights to lactation accommodation. Though California employers are required to have a written lactation policy in place, and it’s recommended that policy is given to all employees upon hire, requests for leave and upon return from pregnancy-related leave, not all employers have systems in place that ensure recommended practices are followed. However, the lactation policy IS required. Ask to see it as soon as you’re comfortable with your employer knowing about your pregnancy. Discuss the policy with your supervisors and HR department before going on leave, locate the provided lactation spaces and let your employer know if you believe the spaces are not compliant with state requirements. You can give them a copy of the California LAW Guide For Employers as a resource. This gives them the time necessary to ensure compliance by the time you return to work after your baby is born.

Not sure what to say? Here’s a suggestion to get you started:

“It is very important for me to be a good employee and a good parent. My doctor recommends that I breastfeed my baby to help minimize the risk of illness. Your support will make it easier. My needs are simple: I’ll need [insert your needs for space, break time, etc.]