Sunday, May 16, 2010
The hot-button issue of breast feeding breaks at work recently has been pushed into the national spotlight with new legislation and a high-profile lawsuit.
An obscure provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act championed by President Obama requires employers to provide reasonable unpaid breaks for nursing mothers to express milk for their newborns. No time limit is set on the number of breaks; in companies with 50 or more employees, employers must provide a private space that locks that is not a restroom and not visible to the public. The breaks aren’t required to be paid unless required by state law or perhaps by an employee’s exempt status. The United States Department of Labor is expected to issue additional regulations to implement this new rule. Nearly half the states already have in place rules requiring the accommodation of nursing mothers.
Although from an unlikely source, the protection for breast feeding mothers is long overdue. A New York woman recently filed a lawsuit alleging that she was fired from her job for breast feeding. Yardiris Rivera says after giving birth to her daughter Erin, she intended to breast feed as long as she could. According to Rivera, her employers had other plans. Rivera alleges her breast feeding created tension at her work place, Medical Imaging of Manhattan. When she returned from maternity leave, her bosses told Rivera to stop breast feeding at work. After she refused to stop, her bosses made it increasingly more difficult for her to pump breast milk while she was at work. Rivera says that she was made to pump milk in a dirty restroom stall that was tiny and unsanitary. As a final blow, Rivera was laid off in February. She contacted an attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union who filed a state and federal complaint against Medical Imaging of Manhattan. The company claims Rivera was part of a layoff that had nothing to do with her breast feeding.