Nursing parents already face numerous challenges when returning to work, but choosing between their employment and providing nutrition to their children should not be one of them. Breastfeeding has health benefits for both the infant and the nursing parent. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists various benefits for the infant, including reducing the risks of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, ear infections and gastrointestinal infections. Benefits for the nursing parent include lower risks of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer and breast cancer. Therefore, it is important for employers to support the well-being of nursing employees and their children. Benefits for employers include lower long-term health care costs as well as a recruitment and retention incentive for those that want to be known as an employer of choice.
The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law was signed in 2010 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). It amended the Fair Labor Standards Act’s Section 7, which applies to nonexempt (hourly) employees. It does not apply to exempt (salaried) employees or certain employees within certain industries, like transportation, agriculture and higher education. Accordingly, this breastfeeding law does not apply to all workers, leaving an estimated nine million working nursing parents with no federal protections.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division’s frequently asked questions related to the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, employers “are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time and a space to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother, for up to one year following the birth of the employee’s child. The frequency of breaks needed to express breast milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary. The space provided by the employer cannot be a bathroom and it must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers or the public.”
What are some concerns of the current law?
- As mentioned above, the Breaktime for Nursing Mothers law requires employers to provide eligible employees with reasonable break time. This requirement applies only to employees who are eligible for overtime pay. Salaried managers, teachers, nurses classified as “learned professionals,” transportation workers and others are excluded from this requirement.
- The current law and rules require only reasonable breaks and a space shielded from view and free from intrusion. Although this is a great start, nursing parents often need more than an empty room to express milk.
A recent bill, the PUMP for Nursing Act (H.R. 3110, S. 1658) would have expanded workplace protections to cover salaried employees and other types of workers not covered under existing law, extended protections to surrogates, extended from one year to two years the available time period for such accommodations and confirmed that time spent to express breast milk must be considered compensable time worked if the employee is also working. Although the bill was passed by the U.S. House last October, it was blocked from passing in the Senate this past June.
Why should employers care about nursing parents?
The Investing in Workplace Breastfeeding Programs and Policies: An Employers Toolkit, developed by the National Business Group on Health’s Center for Prevention and Health Services, notes that breastfeeding can:
- Reduce medical costs for the mother/parent and child
- Reduce absenteeism from parents
- Retain employees and promote a healthy work-life balance.
With an ongoing baby formula shortage, many nursing parents are forced to continue breastfeeding their children even past the recommended time frame. Employers may want to consider adopting new workplace policies to retain these employees and provide a safe environment for parents.
Here are four best practices employers can consider when supporting their nursing employees:
- Provide decent and reasonable lactation stations. The Break Time for Nursing Mothers law already addresses that no bathroom can be a station. A lactation room at its minimum should contain a chair, a flat surface, access to electricity, running water and a place to store the milk. Nicer lactation rooms may also have a medical-grade breast pump.
- Provide paid breaks. Nursing is as natural as using the restroom or having a cup of water. Parents should be given the ability to take nursing breaks as needed. Please remember different nursing parents have different needs, and not every pumping break can be scheduled ahead of time.
- Ensure that lactation consultants are part of your benefit plans. Most insurance plans cover professional support, counseling and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding.
- Provide education to everyone. Parents, partners and colleagues can benefit from breastfeeding education in terms of what and why special accommodations are needed.
As employers consider ways to improve the breastfeeding experience for their nursing employees, it is important to ask them about their specific needs. It is important to note that not all nursing parents may be female-presenting individuals. Creating an inclusive policy that protects female, nonbinary and transgender employees is crucial.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health provides resources on supporting nursing parents at work by industry. Employers should review their state laws as well. If a state law provides a greater protection for employees than the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law, it then becomes the requirement employers must adhere to.
Want to learn more about creating an inclusive environment; tackling biases; and correctly addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in pensions and benefits? Join us at one or more of our upcoming conferences, including the 68th Annual Employee Benefits Conference in Las Vegas, October 23-26, and the 55th Annual Canadian Employee Benefits Conference in New Orleans, November 20-23. And make sure to check out our DEI educational resources.
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