Pumping at Work: Talking to Your Employer & Knowing Your Rights

Q: How do I talk to my employer about a place to pump? What are my rights? What can I do if my coworkers or supervisor give me a hard time about pumping?

Breastfeeding Parents Rights

Breastfeed Chicago and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois teamed up to bring you a very informative webinar to walk you through the laws that protect your right to pump at work!

This is a great place to start for information about your workplace pumping rights! You can watch it here:

Illinois law supports your right to pump at work. According to 820 ILCS 260, any employer with five or more workers shall provide:

“Reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide break time under this Section if to do so would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations.”

The law also stipulates that “an employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee described in Section 10 can express her milk in privacy.”

The Illinois Human Rights Act was passed in 2015, and it further stipulates that an employer of any size cannot fire, refuse to hire, or retaliate against any employee (part-time, full-time, salaried, hourly, or even someone applying for a job) for asking for pumping accommodations and taking breaks related to milk expression.

Communicate with your employer before or during maternity leave about your need for a private and clean place to pump when you return to work. Give your employer advance notice about your need for accommodation, be assertive, and know the law is on your side. Check to see whether your employer has pumping accommodation policies already in place, such as requesting keys to a pumping space ahead of time, and do your best to follow their policies if they are reasonable. If you ask for pumping accommodations, your employer is legally required to have a timely, good-faith, and meaningful conversation about accommodating you. The law says you can request accommodations in person or in writing.

Accommodations to discuss might include things like: a chair, an electrical outlet, a clean, non-bathroom space near your usual work area with a lock on the door or another way to ensure privacy, access to running water to rinse pump parts, a refrigerator or cooler (provided by employer or employee) to store expressed milk, break time, temporary changes to your work schedule, and other reasonable changes to your workday or work space.

Your employer may offer suggestions about what is reasonable and suggest alternatives to the accommodations you ask for. Your employer cannot punish you for asking for accommodations to pump at work and your employer cannot force you to accept their suggested accommodations if you did not ask for them, but you cannot force your employer to accept your requests either.

If you receive any pushback from a work supervisor about pumping, it is legally the responsibility of the employer, not the employee, to prove any undue hardship created by accommodating the pumping employee. Your employer’s human resources department may be a good place to start if your legal rights are not being respected by your supervisor. If you belong to a labor union, your union representative may be able to provide guidance as well.

If a coworker who is not in a supervisory position gives you a hard time about pumping, you might try ignoring them, especially if they have no power over your performance evaluation or reputation at work. Human resources may be helpful if you need formal employer support to resolve the situation.

“Bottom line is, you are making food for your baby. You can be direct, you can play it off with humor, or you can stuff chocolate in your mouth every time someone says something rude…whatever you have to do to MAKE THAT MILK FOR YOUR BABY. You and your baby have a right to this time,” said Katrina Pavlik, founder of Breastfeed Chicago.

You might have heard the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Mothers understand this more than anyone! Sometimes, creativity can help to overcome a workplace pumping obstacle in the short or long term. No pumping room? We’ve seen plenty of broom closets turned into pumping zones with a chair and a good scrub! No refrigerator? A soft-sided cooler and ice packs save the day! No electrical outlet? A manual pump comes to the rescue. Desperate to pump but you’re locked out of the pump room? A kind co-worker might be convinced to lend you their office while they’re on lunch, or your car becomes the path of least resistance for the day.

If you encounter a workplace pumping issue and you do NOT believe that your employer is acting in good faith to resolve the issue, the ACLU of Illinois and the State of Illinois Department of Human Rights both provide employee discrimination complaint forms.


Back to Work Breastfeeding GuideGoing back to work and breastfeeding? This question is part of Breastfeed Chicago’s Ultimate Back-to-Work Breastfeeding Guide. Read the full guide to help the transition go smoothly!

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