At every opportunity, I'm telling HR professionals and anyone else who will listen that if we, as employers, are committed to having mothers in the workplace, we have to make the environment an inviting one. While an inviting environment is certainly a necessity for every employee, this post focuses on mothers who are breastfeeding. (Future posts will focus on other invitations.) In many cases, employers simply do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. In order to give other employers who are not so inclined a nudge in the right direction, employment regulations take over and make doing the right thing a matter of law.
In case you didn't know,
Under federal law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Affordable Care Act”) amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The break time requirement became effective when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010. The Wage and Hour Fact Sheet #73 “Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA” and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) posted below provide basic information about the law. **Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the FLSA break time requirement if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship.
Under state law, Title 26, Ch 7, §604 requires ANY employer shall provide adequate unpaid break time or permit an employee to use paid break time or meal time each day to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to 3 years following childbirth. The employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a clean room or other location, other than a bathroom, where an employee may express breast milk in privacy. An employer may not discriminate in any way against an employee who chooses to express breast milk in the workplace. **The state does not recognize any exceptions, all employers both private and public must adhere to this requirement.
We have federal law and state law that tells EVERY employer in Maine what to do to make their workplaces an inviting place for breastfeeding mothers. If you have fewer than 50 employees, you are required to follow state law. If you have over 50 employees, you are required to follow both federal and state law. If you are not following the law today, put a plan in place to become compliant quickly. And please don't pull the "undue hardship" card or say "we tried but we couldn't find a spot to fit the requirements." Try harder and find a spot that meets the requirements. Doing so is the right thing to do.