Know Your Rights: Returning to Work after Maternity Leave


Many employers and nursing moms are unaware of the laws surrounding breastfeeding and pumping when they return to their place of work.

Lactation laws vary from state to state, and different employers will be subject to different things depending on their size, location and the type of employee (exempt or non-exempt) they have employed.

Sound complicated? Fortunately for you we’ve made the basics on lactation laws super simple and easy to digest with our interactive map, and EVEN easier with our survey after which we will email you your personalised results dependent on your state and size and place of work.

However there is A LOT more additional info to take into consideration and things to discuss with your employer than just the federal law upon returning to work. We’ve put together a guide on a few key concerns and things you should be aware of when returning to the daily grind.


Consider flexible working or reduced hours

If you’ve been working for an employer for over 26 weeks continuously, then you may not be aware that you can request flexible working - and it is your right to do so. Good news - maternity leave counts as continuous service so you are more likely to qualify to ask if this sounds like something that could benefit you.

Flexible working includes the ability to change which hours you are obliged to work, as long as you make up your required hours in a week. This can include starting earlier and finishing earlier, or doing less hours one day and transferring them to another day. This may also include working from home - or returning part-time.

Discuss your requests with your employer. They will have to agree to your request, and can turn it down on business grounds, however they can not discriminate and are not allowed to turn down a request without fair process or reasoning.

If your request is denied you have the right to appeal this decision, especially if you believe that unjust discrimination has influenced the decision. In this instance we always suggest you seek legal advice - and we go into this in detail later in this article.

Consider health and safety risks

Your employer is obliged by law to protect the health and safety of employees. Whilst you are breastfeeding and employed, you and your baby have special considerations and protection under the same regulations that protect pregnant employees.

Specific health and safety assessments must be carried out for expectant and new mothers to assess the suitability of working conditions and any hazards or hazardous substances in the workplace.

If you are worried that your job is bringing you into contact with any hazardous or dangerous substances that may in turn affect your babies well being, your employer must take measures to remove those from your environment/job. Which may even include temporarily changing your hours or role. If adjustments to your working hours or conditions would not remove identified risks, then you should be given a temporary transfer to alternative work, or suspended, without loss of pay.

Know your options if you are concerned about workplace harassment or discrimination

If you don’t feel supported by your employer, or feel like you have been subject to discrimination or harassment in ANY form, it is essential you take things further. This includes indirect discrimination, such as your employer having a a policy or practice which disadvantages women, or one which cannot be fairly justified on business grounds.

Speak to your HR department or higher management through written means or grievance process. If this is unsuccessful you can try looking into trade union support or legal advice.

Always keep a record of this process, of all requests made and where possible try to get written communication of responses or experiences.

There are however strict time limits to when you can take action if you feel legal action is a route to pursue. You must make a claim within 3 months of the last day any act of discrimination took place. Read more on your discrimination rights.

Get educated on your rights as a mother returning to work and exercise them freely! No one should ever feel like they aren’t being supported at work and the right measures are in place to help you ease the transition of returning to work.

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