As you may have heard by now, the new health reform law includes a provision to protect nursing mothers who choose to pump breast milk at work. But it’s important to realize that 24 states still have their own laws on this topic. And you must follow whichever law—fed or state—gives the greatest protection to the employee.
Case in Point: Yadris Rivera worked as a receptionist for, ironically enough, a mammography center in New York City. Last year, Rivera had a baby and went on. When she returned, Rivera told her boss she needed to pump breast milk at work.
Instead of providing Rivera with a clean and private location, her employer told her to pump milk in the bathroom. The supervisors also suggested that Rivera switch her child to formula as soon as possible and she was repeatedly told that she shouldn’t be pumping at work.
The federal law wasn’t in effect last year, so Rivera asserted her legal rights to pump milk at work under the New York Nursing Mother’s in the Workplace Act, which—similar to the new federal law—requires employers to provide reasonable, unpaid breaks to pump breast milk at work. Rivera’s supervisors allegedly responded by targeting Rivera for discipline based on the same conduct that other employees engaged in but without consequences.
Supervisors continued to pressure Rivera to stop breastfeeding her daughter. So, against her wishes, she weaned her baby off breast milk before the baby’s first birthday. Soon after, Rivera was fired despite her excellent work record.
Last week, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a discrimination charge with the EEOC on behalf of Rivera. As Rivera was quoted as saying, “It’s not like I’m on a smoke break, enjoying coffee and chatting up a co-worker. Pumping is serious business. It’s feeding your child.”
The Federal Law: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires you to provide “reasonable” unpaid break time to allow nursing mothers to express breast milk each time an employee needs to do so. You must also provide a private location (not a restroom) that’s shielded from view and free from intrusion of co-workers and the public. Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from the law if complying would cause “undue hardship.” (Q&A on the new law)
3 Lessons Learned… Without Going to Court
1. Some women have babies.
2. Some women who have babies choose to breastfeed and pump milk.
3. Let them.