January 29, 2019 Category: Breastfeed Discrimination
Absent a private company policy, new moms aren’t guaranteed paid time off from work after giving birth. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a new mom can take up to 12 weeks off from work – unpaid – without the fear of losing her job. As a result, mothers are often back at work not long after giving birth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that newborns are exclusively breastfed for at least 6 months. How can a new mom breastfeed her child for 6 months if she has to go back to work a few weeks after that child is born? The only solution is pumping breastmilk and leaving it with the child’s caretaker. Mothers have to be able to pump at work to keep up with the child’s demand.
Unfortunately, a recent study reveals that breastfeeding discrimination is rampant in the American workplace. Federal protections for breastfeeding mothers exist, but many employers don’t seem to care. New moms are facing backlash at work for choosing to pump, while others are losing their jobs altogether.
Federal Breastfeeding Protections
In 2010, new moms began to enjoy a federally-protected right to pump breastmilk at work. Under Section 7 of the FMLA, breastfeeding mothers are entitled to:
- A reasonable break during work to express breast milk, and
- A private place – other than a bathroom – to pump.
Reasonable Break: Employers must allow breastfeeding mothers a reasonable amount of time to pump and collect breast milk at work for at least one year after she gives birth. Generally speaking, a mother should be given at least 15-20 minutes to pump during each break. Requests for breaks must be granted each time the mother needs to express milk.
Private Place to Pump: New moms aren’t just guaranteed time to pump, but also adequate accommodations for pumping. This private place has to be “shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.” Employers can’t simply direct nursing moms to the bathroom. Under the FMLA, a bathroom does not qualify as a private place to pump.
Breastfeeding Moms Facing Backlash at Work
Working moms are suffering because they need to pump at work. The Office on Women’s Health at the Department of Health and Human Services reports that employers deprive women of their rights in a variety of ways.
- Employers refuse to grant breastfeeding breaks whenever necessary, causing nursing moms unnecessary and avoidable pain.
- Employers refuse to grant private breastfeeding locations, forcing mothers to pump in full view of their coworkers or the public.
- Employers and coworkers sexually harassing mothers for choosing to pump and breastfeed.
- Employers refuse to provide nursing moms with alternate job duties when necessary to accommodate breastfeeding.
Many nursing moms have even been fired for exercising their right to express and collect breastmilk at work. These behaviors are in direct violation of federal law.
Nursing Moms Have Lost Their Jobs After Reporting Discrimination
When a mother’s right to pump at work is infringed or violated, she has the right to file a discrimination claim against her employer. It’s against the law for employers to retaliate when discrimination has been reported. However, a new study reveals that two-thirds of the women who report breastfeeding discrimination lose their jobs. Some are fired, while others are forced to quit.
Not all nursing moms lose their jobs. Many report experiencing some kind of penalty at work, including pay decreases and reduced working hours, after reporting unlawful breastfeeding discrimination.
California Law Aims to Bolster Breastfeeding Rights
A California Senator recently introduced a pro-breastfeeding bill. The law would have two primary purposes:
- Require “designated lactation rooms” in new and renovated work buildings, and
- Prohibit employers from discriminating or retaliating against mothers for “exercising or attempting to exercise” the right to breastfeed.
The California law would actually provide greater protections and rights to breastfeeding mothers. The law would apply to all breastfeeding moms, not just to mothers who have given birth in the last 12 months.
Pregnant working moms have rights. So do breastfeeding moms. Your employer doesn’t have the right to prevent you from breastfeeding or pumping at work for the first year of your child’s life. Do not hesitate to contact our experienced discrimination attorneys if you’ve been denied your right to pump at work.