State legislators are taking a closer look at protections and accommodations for employees who are breastfeeding or expressing milk for their infants. Federal regulators and the medical community is also concerned. Meanwhile, many employers are already taking steps to ensure new moms can return to work with less worry.
"In the years since the [Pregnancy Discrimination Act] was enacted, charges alleging pregnancy discrimination have increased substantially," warns the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in revised 2015 guidance. The EEOC guidance also recommends that employers adopt policies to protect new moms.
It’s this guidance, experts say, that has led many states and cities "to provide more stringent protections than those provided under federal law," notes Bloomberg’s Labor and Employment Blog.
In January, breastfeeding was added as a protected class under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, making it unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee who is breastfeeding or expressing milk for an infant.
The New Jersey amendment "requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to nursing women, unless it would result in undue hardship for the employer," writes Epstein Becker & Green. The law requires reasonable beak time and a suitable, private location, other than a bathroom. Similar legislation is pending in California and other state, "making this an issue to watch," notes Bloomberg’s Labor and Employment Blog.
Esther Kestenbaum, CEO of DayOne Baby, views employer accommodations for new moms as a way to attract and retain new talent.
"We are in a near full-employment work environment," Kestenbaum tells HR Leads Business. "Attracting great people is tough. Having a known culture of inclusiveness that supports families can be really helpful in your efforts to hire and keep talented people."
When making accommodation, DayOne Baby is working with the HR and benefits departments of major corporations such as Microsoft, Salesforce.com, Netflix and others to better support new parents in the workplace. Kestenbaum recommends that companies:
The DayOne Baby website provides more advice on workplace solutions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has developed a comprehensive toolkit, the Business Case for Breastfeeding, designed to provide employers with guidance. The site provides examples of companies who reduced health care expenses, lowered absenteeism rates and improved retention rates.
"Supporting nursing moms at work is not only the right thing to do," says HHS. It can result in bottom-line benefits to your company."