workplace

Breast-feeding at work now protected by law

Jan. 4, 2012 at 7:23 AM ET

Breast-feeding avengers may be coming to a workplace near you.

Women want to be able to breast feed their babies when and where they want to. Witness the “nurse-ins” at Target stores on the West Coast last week that were prompted by a shopper who was mocked for breast feeding by employees at one Target. Moms, however, also want to be able to breast feed when they’re on the clock.

To that end, help is here. A new law, which was tucked into Obama’s health care reform legislation, is already helping to make breast-feeding at work easier.

The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in March 2010, amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, and for the first time employers are now federally mandated to provide women with breaks and a place to breastfeed. The final rules regarding the law have not been finalized, but that hasn’t stopped the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division’s enforcers from going after employers who don’t make accommodations for working moms who want to pump.

Already, 23 companies have been cited by the agency, according to Sonia Melendez, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department.

“The department intends to continue enforcing the law based on the statutory language,” she said. “Until the department issues final guidance, the request for information provides useful information for employers to consider in establishing policies for nursing employees.”

Employers can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for the final rules because the Labor Department may slap a fine on a company or at least force it to make breast-feeding accommodations.

“It’s been the law for a while and they don’t have to have the final regulations to be able to enforce it,” said Carrie Hoffman, a partner with Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP in Dallas, who represents employers.

The new law, she continued, is hardest for smaller firms to comply with, and for retailers in particular where space is at a premium. But, she added, she’s advising her clients to start thinking about how they’ll be able to make adjustments in the workplace to provide time and a location, besides a bathroom, for women to breast feed.

Here’s a list from the Department of Labor of some of the better-known companies that have already been cited at certain locations under the law:

  • Dollar General: Violations – Failure to provide adequate space and failure to provide reasonable time (Agreed to comply and agreed to pay $814.43 in back wages). A Dollar General spokeswoman said the company was cited at one of its locations, adding that it could not discuss the particulars of the case. "I can say that we have a policy in place that is communicated to our employees through our employee handbook which explains our compliance with the new regulations. We do have a policy that provides time and space for employees for breastfeeding."
  • Dillard’s: Violations – Failure to provide adequate space and failure to provide reasonable time (Agreed to comply)
  • Starbucks: Violation – Failure to provide adequate space (Agreed to comply)
  • McDonald’s franchise based in Murrieta, Calif.: Violation – Failure to provide reasonable time (Agreed to comply)

The Department of Labor would not provide a time frame on when the final rules would be introduced. But there’s a fact sheet on the law here (http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.htm). Also, employees who believe their employer has violated the law can contact the division’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-487-9243.

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