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Transitioning Back to Work After Baby


November 12, 2015 by Flannary Collins
Category: Leave Policies

Transitioning Back to Work After Baby

My most recent blog post covered the different types of parental leave available to care for a new child. While parental leave is a bit of a maze, once the initial newborn stage has passed and the new parent returns to work, that is when the real juggling act starts. Being a mom to two young children myself, I am well aware of the new set of challenges parents face when they return to work after having a baby. If their babies are anything like mine, most new parents returning to work may be a bit lacking in the sleep department; sorting through these new challenges can be especially daunting when you are sleep-deprived. These Q&As will, I hope, provide guidance on these issues to both employers and employees.

A new mom wants to continue breastfeeding her baby after she returns to work; what are the employer’s obligations in this situation?

  • Obligations to non-FLSA-exempt employees: Employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. Ch. 8, that employ 50 or more workers are required to do the following for non-FLSA exempt employees:

    • Provide the nursing mother with reasonable break time as frequently as needed (for up to one year after baby’s birth) to express breast milk.

      • The break time is not required to be compensated, unless the employee is taking her normally allotted paid break time to express milk.

    • Provide a private, dedicated space, besides the bathroom (!), to express breast milk.

    • Note: if the employer has fewer than 50 employees, this nursing break time requirement does not apply if compliance would impose an undue hardship (as defined in the law) on the employer. More detailed information is available from the US Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA and from the law itself, 29 U.S.C. §207(r).                                                  

  • Obligations to FLSA-exempt employees The FLSA break time requirements do not apply to exempt employees because exempt employees are already allowed to take breaks as needed. However, the agency personnel policy may address exempt employee break time.

 A new dad took six weeks off of work to care for his newborn baby. Now that the baby is five months old, his wife is going back to work and he would like to spend some more time at home with the baby. Can he take more time off of work?

Maybe. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), parental leave can be taken intermittently during the baby’s first year, if the employer agrees to the intermittent leave. 29 C.F.R. §825.202(c).

Both parents work for the same employer. The mom took off 12 weeks to care for her newborn baby and has returned to work. The father would now like to take 12 weeks off of work to care for the baby. Can he do that?

Under the FMLA, when both parents work for the same employer, an employer can choose to limit parental leave for both parents to a combined total of 12 weeks of leave. 29 C.F.R. §825.120(a)(3). The agency personnel policy should address whether this is the case.

A new mom returned to work on Monday, November 2, after taking a 12-week parental leave to care for her newborn. She has used all of her accrued sick and vacation leave and has not yet accrued any more. On Wednesday, November 4, her baby developed the flu with a fever and their daycare’s policy requires the baby stay at home for at least 24 hours. What can the employee do, given that she has used all of her 12-week FMLA leave and has no paid leave left?  

  • This employee's options are limited since she has no remaining sick leave, vacation leave, or other paid leave, and she has used all of her 12-week FMLA leave.

  • She is not yet entitled to any additional FMLA leave since she has only been back at work for two days and she is still within the same 12-month period for FMLA leave. Employees are entitled only to 12-weeks of leave in a 12-month period. (Note, employers do have different options by which to measure this 12-month period but, under this scenario, a new 12-month period for FMLA leave has not yet commenced.)

  • Two potential options are:

    • Leave without pay, which is typically approved (or not) at the discretion of the employee’s supervisor; or

    • Donated leave through an employer’s shared leave policy, if the employer has such a policy.

Babies bring a whole new set of challenges for working parents! 


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Flannary Collins

Flannary Collins is the Managing Attorney for MRSC. She first joined the organization as a legal consultant in August 2013 after working for ten years as the assistant city attorney for the city of Shoreline. At MRSC, Flannary enjoys providing legal guidance to municipalities through inquiry assistance and in-person trainings on municipal issues, with a heavy emphasis on the Public Records Act.

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