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Leave and Work Flexibilities for Nursing Mothers

On December 20, 2010, President Obama authorized the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to provide guidance to executive branch civilian employees on workplace accommodations for employees who are nursing mothers. This authority supports section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (the Act), Pub. L. 111-148, which added a new subsection (r) to section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) (codified, as amended, at 29 U.S.C. 207). This new subsection (r) requires an employer to provide nursing mothers with: a) a reasonable break time to express breast milk for their nursing children for 1 year after the children’s birth each time such employees have need to express milk; and b) a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public which may be used by employees to express breast milk.

  • The Act does not require agencies to compensate nursing mothers for breaks to express breast milk. However, many agencies already provide compensated breaks (e.g., 15 minutes in morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon) that employees may use for any purpose. Where these compensated breaks are being provided, employees who use the break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for such break time.
  • The frequency of breaks to express milk, as well as the duration of each break, will likely vary according to the needs of individual mothers.
  • Remote employees are eligible to take pump breaks on the same basis as other employees. Workers who telework must also be free from observation by any employer-provided or required monitoring system, including computer cameras, security camera, or web conferencing platform while expressing breast milk.
  • The Act also encourages the use of current workforce flexibilities to accommodate the needs of nursing mothers for reasonable breaks to express milk. The following workforce flexibilities are recommended in the Act:
    • Flexible or compressed work schedules may be established for nursing mothers who needs time off to express milk during normal working hours. Coast Guard organizations should review their local Alternative Work Schedule (AWS) policies and practices and collective bargaining agreements to determine how additional AWS flexibilities may be implemented for this purpose. General guidance on AWS can be found in COMDTINST 5330.10.
  • Employees may also be allowed to use annual leave, leave without pay (LWOP), compensatory time off, or credit hours, as discussed below:
    • When employees request annual leave to express milk, supervisors should be as accommodating as possible in reviewing and approving such requests, consistent with the regulations in 5 CFR part 630, subpart C, Annual Leave; local policies; and applicable collective bargaining agreements.
    • At the discretion of supervisors, LWOP may be granted to employees who request breaks to express milk during normal working hours. As with annual leave, OPM encourages supervisors, whenever possible, to act favorably upon requests by employees for LWOP to express milk. Supervisors should review their local policies on LWOP and applicable collective bargaining agreements.
    • Supervisors may approve requests to use compensatory time off that employees have earned in exchange for performing an equal amount of time in irregular or occasional overtime work. For employees under flexible work schedules, supervisors may approve employees’ requests to earn compensatory time off for both regularly scheduled and irregular or occasional overtime work.
    • Where authorized, credit hours are those hours within a flexible work schedule that employees elect to work in excess of their basic work requirement (e.g., 80 hours in a pay period for full-time employees) so as to vary the length of a workweek or workday. Nursing mothers may be allowed to use accumulated credit hours to fulfill their basic work requirement, thereby gaining time off from work to express milk. The maximum amount of credit hours that may be carried over from one pay period to another is 24 hours.
  • For Coast Guard Headquarters (Base NCR employees), nursing mothers’ facilities are available at the following locations:
    • 4J16-23: Hospital-grade pumps, sink, refrigerator, microwave
    • 9AA06-15: Hospital-grade pumps, sink, refrigerator, microwave
    • 9Z04-32: Only for mothers with children in the CDC
    • 6J15-16: Temporary Room - Refrigerator, microwave, users will need to bring their own equipment
  • Guidance is available in ALCOAST 189/11, WORKPLACE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR CIVILIAN NURSING MOTHERS and ALCOAST 199/11, PREGNANCY POLICY AND GUIDELINE UPDATES. Both of these ALCOASTs are located on CG Portal. Nursing mothers who need information on lactation should consult with their health care provider.