A federal law regarding working mothers is posing a new challenge to businesses, especially to smaller businesses with limited resources. According to an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, added after President Obama's Affordable Care Act became law, businesses must provide adequate space and break time for nursing mothers to pump breast milk.
The law requires that employers provide adequate break time as needed and a private and secure space for nursing mothers. Under the law, a bathroom is not a sufficient space. Although the provisions have been in place for nearly two years, the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour division is beginning to crack down on places of business that have not complied. While the rules of the mandate have not been finalized, the department has already cited 23 companies, including a McDonald's franchise and Starbucks, according to agency spokeswoman Sonia Melendez.
Melendez told MSNBC that "the department intends to continue enforcing the law based on the statutory language. Until the department issues final guidance, the request for information provides useful information for employers to consider in establishing policies for nursing employees."
Although many large companies have already taken initiative to comply with the law, the provisions pose a challenge to smaller firms and retailers that are tight on space and money. The law requires employers to create a private space free from disturbances and inaccessible to other employees and, under most circumstances, to provide a refrigeration unit to store the expressed milk and as many break times as needed. Though that could create a burden for small businesses, the law does include a loophole for businesses with fewer than 50 employees, which do not have to comply with the law if doing so would result in "an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer's business."
While the law remains fairly flexible, allowing anything from a 4-by-6 room to a curtained off area, many businesses are posed with a more difficult challenge of making mothers feel comfortable to pump and breastfeed around other employees. Recently, a Texas mother was bullied by employees to stop breastfeeding her child in a Target store, despite the fact that the retailer has an open policy for breastfeeding in public and in fitting rooms.
"The most important thing is that an employer create a comfortable, positive and encouraging environment for nursing mothers even if you can't provide an adequate space," said Danielle Rigg, co-founder of the Best for Babes Foundation. Rigg recommends that cash-strapped businesses create a makeshift cubicle, put up a temporary barricade, or even put a plant on a desk to obscure the view. "Employers stand to win big from employees breastfeeding. Making it a top priority promotes less absenteeism, fewer healthcare costs and happier moms who are employees," she added.
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