Study: Millions lack basic breastfeeding protections
- More than 27 million female workers of childbearing age nationwide go without the basic protections needed by breastfeeding workers, according to Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers, a new report from Pregnant at Work, a Center for WorkLife Law initiative.
- Almost 75% of breastfeeding discrimination cases examined in the study resulted in economic loss and nearly two-thirds ended in job loss, according to the report. Discrimination is most rampant in male-dominated industries. First responders, law enforcement, and other women in predominantly-male industries make up only 16 percent of women workers but account for nearly half (43%) of breastfeeding discrimination claims, the report said.
- Report authors defined breastfeeding discrimination as withholding pumping breaks from employees; retaliating against, including firing, employees who make a breastfeeding-related request; failing to provide a private space for pumping; and making derogatory comments about or related to breastfeeding or pumping.
Laws require some employers to provide workers time and space to express milk during the workday. But to create a workplace that ensures equity for new mothers warrants more than mere compliance, experts say. It necessitates a culture that anticipates or at least responds to the needs of breastfeeding workers. The good news for employers? Such a culture will likely drive engagement and retention.
At the national level, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that employers provide non-exempt employees reasonable break time to express breast milk for one year after a child is born. The law also requires employers to designate a space where employees can pump, and that room cannot be a bathroom.
Despite additional state and local laws, many workers are exempt from protections, as the report points out. Regardless of whether they employ workers covered by these legal protections or not, employers may want to consider how their workplaces treat nursing mothers. The experiences mothers have — and the experience potential mothers or mothers-to-be witness mothers having — may have a significant effect on hiring, engagement and retention. "If someone's having a horrific experience, you could lose them," Jessica Shortall, author of Work. Pump. Repeat. previously told HR Dive in an interview.
To create a culture that welcomes breastfeeding mothers, employers can start by making sure employees who need to pump know when they can take their breaks, whether or not those breaks will be paid, and where they can express breast milk. Experts have recommended employers create a space that includes a comfortable chair, a door that locks, an outlet and a table big enough for a pump and a laptop.
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