Breastfeeding Employee Rights for Nursing Working Moms

Breastfeeding Employee Rights for Nursing Working Moms image

How Small Businesses Can Support Nursing Mothers

By Susan Leech, Senior Claims Analyst, AmTrust Financial Services

Although its benefits are undeniable, breastfeeding has sparked everything from disapproving glares to blatant intolerance for decades.

With breastfeeding discrimination lawsuits on the rise – the number of lawsuits skyrocketed 800 percent between 2006 and 2016 – employers must accommodate nursing mothers or face a potentially devastating lawsuit.

The Birth of a Landmark Law

To protect the rights of working mothers, Congress green-lit a groundbreaking amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in 2010 titled Break Time for Nursing Mothers. Enacted through the Affordable Care Act, the law requires that employers provide nursing women the opportunity – and accommodations – to express milk at work.

Employers with 50 or more employees are required to:  
  • Permit breastfeeding employees to take reasonable breaks throughout the workday to express milk for up to one year after the child’s birth.
  • Provide a private, secure place, other than a bathroom, for expressing breast milk.
  • Educate employees about the company’s commitment to complying with the law regarding lactation breaks.
  • Ensure supervisors and team leaders are aware of their responsibilities as well as the rights of the breastfeeding employees.
It’s important to note that the standards the FLSA sets for pumping accommodations are minimum ones. States and municipalities are free to provide additional protections, and many have enacted laws covering lactation accommodations.

Examples of Discrimination

Falling under the umbrella of family responsibilities discrimination (FRD), breastfeeding discrimination includes:

Denying break requests to express milk, including those from employees who are in pain and leaking milk;

Refusing to provide the proper accommodations, leaving employees to express milk in unsanitary areas such as public restrooms; and

Chastising, shaming or firing an employee for requesting accommodations in order to express milk.

Here are a few cases that made headlines:
  • A paramedic sued the City of Tucson Fire Department for not having a lactation room and for retaliating against her by giving her undesirable assignments when she returned from maternity leave. Told her pumping seemed “excessive” and that she wasn’t “fit for duty,” the frustrated paramedic won her case. The jury’s award: $3.8 million.
  • An assistant restaurant manager for a KFC franchise in Camden, Delaware, was required to express her breast milk in the manager’s office, which was equipped with a camera and accessible to coworkers, who often entered the office while she pumped. The working mom sued for gender discrimination and a hostile work environment. The jury’s award: $1.5 million.
  • After returning from maternity leave, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, police officer endured discrimination ranging from hostility over taking pumping breaks to an eventual demotion. The jury’s award: $374,000.

Making it Right for Working Moms

Besides following federal guidelines, employers can take a few additional steps to ensure their employees receive the accommodations they deserve.

Put it on paper. Employers should clearly outline the company’s process for handling requests for accommodations from employees returning from maternity leave. Additionally, having a female staff liaison to whom the breastfeeding employee can consult for support would prove invaluable.

Sanitize the space. All designated lactation rooms should not only be private and secure, but also hygienic. Employers should furnish the rooms with the appropriate equipment and supplies, from comfortable chairs to clean towels and antibacterial wipes.

Be proactive. Having a small refrigerator or designated cooler in the break room would make it easy for nursing employees to store their expressed milk.

Be empathetic. Being mindful – and respectful – of the needs of breastfeeding employees is paramount. Whether it’s permitting short breaks throughout the day or educating the team about the challenges of expressing milk at work, a little support can foster a cohesive workplace culture.

Creative Accommodation Ideas

Providing the proper accommodations may require some creative thinking. Here are a few resourceful ideas for accommodating employees who are nursing:
  • Temporarily assign a manager’s office or conference room as a designated lactation space. The employer can allocate specific times during the workday for the breastfeeding employee’s exclusive use.
  • Assign floater employees or managers to cover a nursing employee’s duties during lactation breaks. This initiative would demonstrate team support for the breastfeeding employee.
  • Utilize temporary quarters like tents and campers as designated lactation spaces for breastfeeding employees in the agriculture and construction fields to pump in private.

Doing What’s Right Works for Everyone

Supporting nursing moms in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s also a good business decision. According to the American Journal of Health Promotion, moms who breastfeed are significantly less likely to miss work in their infant’s first year of life. Additionally, a supportive work environment means a new mom is more likely to return after maternity leave and have higher job satisfaction. Employers who support nursing mothers will see higher employee retention rates, reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

The Office on Women’s Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), offers a wealth of information designed to help employers stay in compliance, including industry-specific recommendations for supporting nursing mothers.

Employing the Right Coverage

Besides providing a clear policy and the proper accommodations, employers can protect themselves against a costly claim with employment practices liability insurance or EPLI. With business owners more likely to be sued by an employee than be involved in a general or property liability claim, having EPLI is critically important.

Supporting employees who are breastfeeding benefits everyone.

Based in Chicago, Susan Leech is a Senior Claims Analyst for AmTrust Financial Services, a multinational property and casualty insurer headquartered in New York City.

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