Q. We run a manufacturing plant. Our break policy allows employees to take up to two breaks each shift to use the restroom. As long as the employees return to their posts within 10 minutes, the breaks are paid. We have an employee who is nursing and using her breaks to express breast milk. This usually takes about 15 minutes each break. Can we treat these breaks as unpaid?
A. No, you need to pay all employees for rest periods of a short duration. According to the Department of Labor (DOL), breaks of less than 20 minutes must be counted as hours worked.
Furthermore, under state and federal laws, employees have a right to reasonable breaks to express breast milk.
Nursing mothers must be allowed to take a break every time they need to express breast milk, and employers must provide a private location (other than a bathroom) to do so. The DOL does not require employers to pay employees for lactation breaks. However, when an employer otherwise provides its workers with paid breaks, an employee who uses that time to express milk must be paid the same way other workers are paid for break times.
Therefore, if employees who are entitled to a break take one for less than 20 minutes, you should treat the break as work time.