Breastfeeding: Rules for Employees & Customers

Breastfeeding: Rules for Employees & Customers

Employer Requirements for Nursing Mothers

Q: What is the law that determines what employers must provide for employees that are breastfeeding?
A: The Affordable Care Act amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), creating a nursing mothers break time provision for employees.

Q: What accommodations are employers required to provide employees that are nursing or expressing milk?

A: Employers must provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion.

Do employers need to provide employees with breaks for this purpose?

A: Yes. Employers must provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk/nurse for up-to one year after the child’s birth each time an employee has need to do so.

Q: Does this law apply to all employers?

A: No. The law is a requirement of all businesses that employ more than 50 people, including franchise businesses even if the on-site staff is fewer than 50. However, businesses with fewer than 50 employees must prove it is hardship to comply with the law in order for the mandate to not apply to them.

Rev. 7/21/2016


Rules of Breastfeeding in Public

Q: Is breastfeeding indecent exposure?

A: No. The act of breastfeeding or expressing breast milk is not indecent exposure.

Q: Does a mother have a right to breastfeed her child in my restaurant?

A: Yes, a mother may breastfeed her child in any place of public resort, accommodations, assemblage or amusement.

Q: Is discrimination against a breastfeeding mother allowed in my restaurant?

A: No. Discrimination against a mother breastfeeding her child in any place of public resort, accommodations, assemblage or amusement is prohibited.

Q: Can my restaurant place limits on the amount of nudity allowed during the act of breastfeeding a baby?

A: No. To do so would be considered discrimination. In fact, a mother is afforded an absolute right to breastfeed her child in public establishments including restaurants. It is an unfair practice to restrict patronage to, curtail the presence of, distinguish options for or otherwise discriminate against a mother breastfeeding her child.

Q: What can I do if my patrons feel uncomfortable observing a mother breastfeeding her child?

A: Although patrons who observe a mother breastfeeding her child may express their discomfort or dissatisfaction, they must accept it as lawful behavior, or they have the option to excuse themselves from viewing it. The mother, on the other hand, must be allowed to remain put. According to the Washington State Human Rights Commission, a mother breastfeeding her child in public cannot be asked to cover her child, move to a different location or to leave. Restaurant owners are allowed to provide an area for mothers to breastfeed privately, but they may not insist on its usage, and the mother may refuse to use it. A restaurant owner could also tactfully explain to the offended patron that Washington state has laws that support a mother’s choice to breastfeed in public, and offer to move the patron to a different area.

Q: Can I designate my restaurant to be “infant-friendly” on its promotional materials?

A: Yes, if you have an approved workplace breastfeeding policy addressing at least the following:

  • Flexible work scheduling, including scheduling breaks and permitting work patterns that provide time for expression of breast milk;
  • A convenient, sanitary, safe, and private location, other than a restroom, allowing privacy for breastfeeding or expressing breast milk;
  • A convenient clean and safe water source with facilities for washing hands and rinsing breast-pumping equipment located in the private location; and
  • A convenient hygienic refrigerator in the workplace for the mother’s breast milk.

Employers seeking approval of a workplace breastfeeding policy must submit the policy to the Washington State Department of Health. The Department of Health shall review and approve those policies that meet these requirements. The department may directly develop and implement the criteria for “infant-friendly” employers, or contract with a vendor for this purpose.


RCW 9A.88.010 (2001) (HB 1590)

RCW 9A.88.010 (1).

RCW 49.12.005

RCW 49.60.030(g)

RCW 49.60.215

2009 Wash. Laws, Chap. 164, HB 1596


Rev. 8/29/14


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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