The Affordable Care Act (ACA) gives working mothers rights so they can pump milk and breastfeed their children. These rights went into effect in 2010. Unfortunately, many employers behave as if these rights do not exist. In addition, the law lacks teeth; there is not much in the way of enforcement at this time. The growing numbers of working mothers filing suit against their employers may, with any luck, have an effect upon how nursing mothers are treated at work.
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Your Rights Regarding Breastfeeding
Nursing mothers who work are protected by the United States Department of Labor. Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to give nursing mothers “a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk” and
“a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”
In other words, it is not an employer’s choice whether, when, or where the employee pumps breast milk. She has the right to pump breast milk as needed. She has the right to be given not only a private place, but a clean place. It is illegal to expect or require her to pump in the bathroom.
The FLSA does have provisions protecting nursing mothers from employer retaliation. This means that if you are a nursing mother and you file a complaint against your employer for not respecting your breastfeeding rights, the employer may not discriminate against you, demote you, lower your wages, or fire you. If he does, then you have an additional complaint about retaliation that you may file with the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
One typical lawsuit filed by working mother in Pennsylvania alleges that her employer refused to give her a place to pump other than a bathroom. Her lawsuit goes on to allege that when she did try to express breast milk in the bathroom, she was harassed. Her co-workers would bang on the door and yell at her to hurry up. This is in violation of her rights to a clean place that is not a bathroom, reasonable break time to express breast milk, and privacy.
The Law Is Lacking
At this point in time, there are many exceptions to these rules. For example, an employer with less than 50 employees is not subject to these laws under the FLSA. Within the companies that do employ more than 50 people, only those nursing mothers who are paid hourly wages are protected under the breastfeeding laws. Salaried mothers do not enjoy these protections.
Penalties Are Lacking
The Department of Labor is in charge of enforcing breastfeeding laws. Unfortunately, there are currently no penalties in place for violation of breastfeeding laws. Instead, the Department of Labor attempts to mediate between the lactating mother and her employer.
As more women file suit in response to denial of their breastfeeding rights, lawmakers may see how the rules need to be improved and recognize the necessity of spelling out strict penalties for violations. Once penalties are in place, the laws will have teeth, and more employers will feel incentive to respect worker rights to express breast milk.
If you are a nursing mother, know your rights and demand they be respected. If your rights are being trampled on you may file a complaint the Department of Labor and your employer may not retaliate against you. There are strict penalties in place for employers who retaliate against employees who ask government agencies to enforce their rights.
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