Working parents make up a vast majority of today’s workforce. Supporting these employees and their families with flexible schedules, remote or hybrid work, and generous paid leave policies are among the common best practices for employers, but there are also a number of laws supporting working parents that companies are required to follow. The newly enforceable PUMP (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections) for Nursing Mothers Act expands upon requirements made in the Affordable Care Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect breastfeeding mothers and parents in the workplace.
Benefits of Supporting Working Parents
When employers support parents in the workplace, they benefit in numerous ways. Offering flexible hours and the ability to work remotely can help parents balance the demands of parenting and their job responsibilities. Employers can also benefit from an increase in employee satisfaction, which can lead to higher productivity and morale. Additionally, supporting parents in the workplace can help employers attract and retain more experienced, talented employees, which can lead to improved organizational performance and competitive advantage. Finally, employers can gain a positive reputation in the community, as supporting parents in the workplace is becoming increasingly important to potential employees.
When it comes to breastfeeding specifically, research shows numerous health benefits for both parents and infants. While ultimately fed is best, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants are exclusively breastfed until they turn six months old, and continue to be breastfed alongside safe solid foods up to two years old and beyond. According to WHO research, the health benefits for breastfed children can include higher performance on intelligence tests, and a lower chance of obesity or diabetes. In addition, “women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers.”
Original Requirements for Breastfeeding in the Workplace
The Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires employers with fifty or more employees to provide nursing mothers with reasonable break time to express breast milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. Employers are also required to provide a private, non-bathroom space for nursing mothers to express milk that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. The space must also have access to electricity and a place to store the milk. Additionally, the ACA requires health insurance plans to cover breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment (breast pumps) for nursing parents, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance, or a deductible.
The CDC reports that roughly 83% of parents start out breastfeeding their children, but rates steadily drop when many parents go back to work after their FMLA-guaranteed 12-week leave (which is often unpaid, so they may return even earlier). Once nursing parents return to work, a 2012 study found that just 40% of women had access to both break time and clean, private space as required by law. These parents with support from their employers were “2.3 times as likely to be breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months” and “1.5 times as likely to continue breastfeeding exclusively with each passing month compared with women without access to these accommodations.”
Newly Updated PUMP Act Requirements
Despite compelling evidence pointing to the health benefits of breastfeeding for both children's and women’s health, many working parents have faced little to no support from employers in the form of reasonable accommodations under Obamacare and the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act. With the new PUMP Act, which was passed in December and is fully effective as of April 28, 2023, employers must follow expanded regulations to support lactating parents in the workplace.
Previously, protections for pumping at work only extended to hourly workers who also qualified for overtime. Though many employers provided break time and lactation areas to salaried workers as well, they are now officially protected by the PUMP Act. Research estimates that an additional 9 million workers will now be covered by the PUMP Act, which also further clarifies how employees should be compensated for time spent pumping. Perhaps most importantly, this new legislation also offers employees the legal mechanism to file a complaint and sue their employer if they are denied reasonable accommodations for expressing breastmilk while at work.
Additional Accommodations for Working Parents
If you are an employee not covered by the PUMP Act, you may want to look into additional accommodations provided by the Pregnant Workers' Fairness Act, which was passed in December and will go into effect on June 27. According to this legislation, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for conditions associated with pregnancy, such as lactation. This might entail adjustments to the duties assigned, daily schedule, or work environment. For example, in the event that an employee contracts mastitis, or an infection linked to breastfeeding, they may also be granted time off for medical care. Additionally, companies may permit a caretaker to bring a child into the workplace for feedings if the employee is unable to pump enough milk.
Employers and their employees can also benefit from providing resources and support for breastfeeding parents in the workplace, such as lactation consultants and employee assistance programs. Training supervisors and colleagues on how to support working and lactating parents through courses covering best practices, legal requirements, and reasonable accommodations is essential for a positive and inclusive workplace.
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