Reproductive Health

So Far, Health Reform Gives Rights to Nursing Moms

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

For over a year, nursing women have had the right to take breaks to express breast milk during the workday if they work for certain employers. But until both parties can agree on health care reform, working nursing moms have a lot at stake.

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Interesting Aspects

There are some other interesting aspects of this law.

The United States government has decided that breastfeeding is not necessary for children past the age of 1.

Although the consensus in the medical community is that breastfeeding provides major health benefits for both women and children for as long as the breastfeeding relationship continues, the law stops after a child's first birthday. It's a part of the law that could be improved, as time goes by--and if health reform doesn't get ransacked by the GOP's budget-cutting.

Another issue is the "We'll let you pump, but we're not going to make your employer pay you for it" mentality. The law does not require an employee to be compensated for any time spent pumping during the workday. However, there's nothing to stop a worker from using her paid break time to express breast milk.

Women are entitled to "reasonable" break time for their pumping needs. This means covered employers must provide reasonable break time "each time such an employee has the need to express breast milk." Women should feel entitled to take the time they need when they need it.

A Private Place Required

Employers must provide a private place for women to pump. And it can't be the bathroom. And it must be shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. The Department of Labor's initial interpretation of this requirement is that it requires employers, where practicable, to make a room (either private or with partitions for use by multiple nursing employees) available. Where it is not practicable, a space can be created by partitions or curtains. Any windows in the area must be covered. At a minimum, the space should contain a place to sit and a flat surface on which to place the pump. Ideally, the space should provide access to electricity so that a pump can be plugged into an outlet.

So, what do you do if you are an exempt worker, have a child over the age of 1, work for an employer that is not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act or have an employer claiming hardship?

The first step is to see if your state laws provide greater protection. The National Conference of State Legislatures has a good summary of the various state laws that protect breastfeeding women.

If you feel your breastfeeding rights under the Health Care Legislation have been violated, the next step is to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor by calling 1-866-487-9243.

This law has now been in effect for just over one year. Its passage was an important step forward in the continued work towards equality in the workplace. Let's hope it doesn't get torn up in the highly partisan battles that are gripping the country.

Breastfeeding is good for the nation's health and that makes good, long-term business sense.

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Lisa Pierson Weinberger is an employment lawyer and the founder of Mom, Esq., a law firm dedicated to the needs of parents. More information about Lisa and Mom, Esq. can be found at http://www.momesquire.com.

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