Workers report sex, naps, phone calls in company lactation rooms

Dive Brief:

  • Nursing mothers in some workplaces have witnessed lactation rooms, the designated areas in which they can privately pump breast milk, being used for sex, naps, personal phone calls and other activities, The Guardian reports.
  • The Affordable Care Act mandates that some employers provide private, non-bathroom areas for breast-pumping, a privilege that some employees have abused. Witnesses say perpetrators are typically men, but one woman was caught using her company's lactation room as a make-up area. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick reportedly uses the ride-hailing company's lactation room to meditate.
  • According to The Guardian, Facebook and Google require nursing mothers to sign up in advance and use their ID badges to use the companies' lactation rooms. But many organizations have allowed their lactation rooms to become all-purpose areas. 

Dive Insight:

The Guardian correctly points out that lactation rooms can be a bonus benefit for attracting and retaining female talent. This is part of a broader benefits trend toward parent-friendly perks, including in vitro fertilization coverage. That's lead to some truly unique offerings: Twitter gained attention for announcing it would help nursing mothers away on business trips ship their breast milk back home.

But unless companies ensure that lactation rooms are private spaces only nursing mothers can access, the benefit can seem either meaningless and/or disingenuous to employees. The optics are especially bad given recent lawsuits against employers who allegedly did not accommodate pregnant and nursing moms.

HR will want to prepare for compliance with laws that protect pregnant and nursing workers, particularly in those 19 states that have passed new laws in the last four years alone. Abuse of spaces set aside for a class of employees that is legally classified as handicapped carries obvious legal risks. Not to mention the fact that private spaces like lactation rooms can be havens for sexual misconduct.

Businesses have largely abandoned the traditional cubicle model in favor of offices that include a mix of open floor plans and private 'wellness rooms.' With that in mind, HR departments will need to set clear, practical policy around the use of such spaces.

Filed Under: HR Management Legal
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