Nursing on the Move: How to Support Employees During Business Travel

August 24, 2023・6 mins read
Nursing on the Move: How to Support Employees During Business Travel

With the federal Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act becoming effective on June 23, 2023, almost all U.S. employers must provide exempt and non-exempt employees with:

  • Reasonable break time to express milk for the employee’s nursing child for one year after the child’s birth, each time the employee needs to express the milk; and
  • 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 an employee to express milk. 

Similar state and local laws may apply based on where your employees perform work, potentially imposing additional requirements beyond those at the federal level.

Taking care of your employees throughout their journey from pregnancy through parental leave, and then as working parents, can go a long way toward enhancing workplace morale and employee retention. When reviewing and updating your workplace policies related to nursing employees, it’s critical that you don’t forget about your employees who may need to travel for work.

Here are four ways companies—and employees themselves—can be prepared for a nursing employee’s business travel.

1. Consider a milk transportation service

Not all nursing individuals have an equal ability to express enough milk to cover the needs of their child(ren) while they are away. The longer the business trip, the more likely the individual won’t have enough milk stored to cover the entire travel period. In this instance, the employee may need to ship their milk home intermittently while on business-related trips. In fact, even if quantity is not a concern, the load can literally be lifted by shipping milk home during business travel, thus alleviating the need to carry milk throughout multiple airports or figure out how to keep it cold on flights.

Milk Stork, for instance, is a service that exists with the sole purpose of transporting milk and promoting a career-nursing balance for employees.

2. Allow flexibility in scheduling

Picture this familiar story for many business travelers: An employee is scheduled for a business trip filled with back-to-back meetings during the day, followed by rushing off to nightly team dinners, then heading back to their hotel room for an evening of answering emails and playing catch-up with their normal day-to-day assignments. For a nursing employee, this packed schedule leaves little time to pump.

Remember, traveling employees who are nursing don’t just need locations in which they can pump, but the time to do so. It is not uncommon for a nursing employee to need three or more sessions throughout the business day and several sessions in the evening. With prep and milk storage time, each session can take 30 minutes or longer.

Federal, state and local laws require many employers to allow reasonable break times for employees to express milk whenever the need arises. It’s important for employees and managers to discuss beforehand any breaks the employee anticipates needing throughout each travel day, and also understand that the agreed upon breaks cannot be static and may need to be adjusted based on the employee’s actual needs.

3. Prepare for airline travel

For employees who will be traveling with their milk instead of shipping it home, there are processes and restrictions to be aware of. Navigating how to travel with human milk can be overwhelming, so nursing individuals should arm themselves with a copy of the Transportation Security Administration’s guidelines for traveling with breast milk for support. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also provide a number of resources related to air travel, international travel, immunizations and medications.

At a company level, consider whether your policies should be amended to pay for additional baggage that may be needed so that nursing employees can pack the essentials they need for business and nursing.

4. Verify access to lactation space and storage

An employer’s responsibility to provide a clean and private space to express milk does not end within the employee’s assigned work location. Employers and/or employees can take the following steps to verify that nursing employees will have the accommodations they need while traveling:

  • Connect with someone at client locations, meeting halls or other non-company environments the nursing employee will be visiting to verify a lactation space that complies with all applicable laws and regulations will be provided.
  • Find out if the airport(s) the employee will be traveling through provide pumping stations and make sure to keep a map handy (usually available on the airport’s website) of where these pumping stations are located.
  • Confirm that the hotel the employee will be staying at provides a sufficiently cold, in-room refrigerator for storing milk. It is also a good idea to consider booking a hotel close to the work location, so the employee has the option of returning to their room to pump as needed.

Keep in mind that an appropriate lactation space is clean, comfortable and private. A bathroom does not comply as a lactation room at the federal level, and additional specific requirements for what the room must include may apply at the state and local levels. As a best practice, and in accordance with the Department of Labor’s Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2023-2, the lactation space should include:

  • A reliable place to store pumped milk. Ideally this would be a mini fridge in the lactation room that is only used by pumping mothers. However, it can also be a refrigerator in the breakroom, as long as the employee can easily access it and is not in danger of the milk being thrown away.
  • Outlets for plugging in pumping equipment.
  • A flat surface other than the floor to place the pumping equipment on.
  • Running water and a sink for the employee to wash their hands and clean pumping equipment.
  • A comfortable chair for the employee to sit in while pumping.
  • Climate control; including proper ventilation and a temperature comparable to that of the rest of the building.
  • Privacy considerations, including a door that locks from the inside and blackout curtains over any windows.

As lactation and workplace accommodation laws continue to evolve and expand, businesses must be diligent in maintaining policies that are compliant and that support the well-being and retention of nursing individuals. These best practices can be used as the starting basis for your business.

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