A quick dollar store run is shining an unexpected spotlight on the struggles of working mothers.
On Feb. 1, Codey Burghard photographed a sign taped to a Family Dollar store in Mansfield, Ohio. The sign read, “Sorry. Had to pump for baby + No1 else is here. Be back in 30. Thanks.” She shared the photo along with her reaction on Facebook, writing, “I'm sure there's gonna be at least one customer who complains, but I support this 100% it's not the employees fault at all, pumping at work is a right and employers can't take that away. Even understaffed, moms gotta do what they gotta do.” Her post quickly went viral, generating over 17,000 reactions and 22,000 shares.
Emily Margaret Edgington, the Family Dollar employee and mother of two who put up the sign, told TODAY Parents, “On Feb. 1, I realized that my manager wasn’t going to try to bring a second person in. I called HR corporate to report the issue, and see if they would offer a resolution. They apologized ‘for the inconvenience’ and then went on to tell me to run back and forth every couple of minutes to pump in between customers.”
“So I decided the only way that I would be able to use my rights, was to close the store and pump — because my daughter’s health and being able to eat was my main concern. I wrote the sign, took a picture to show my manager, prayed to God that I wouldn’t get fired or written up for it, and stuck it up on the doors,” says Edgington, a Family Dollar assistant manager.
In an emailed statement, Kayleigh M. Painter, manager of investor and media relations at Dollar Tree, Inc., the parent company of Family Dollar, responded, “We do have company policies and procedures in place that meet all state and federal laws in regard to associate breaks, including those for nursing mothers. We are aware of the recently reported situation in Ohio. Due to privacy reasons, we are unable to comment on specific associate matters.”
Federal law requires employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has [the] need to express the milk” and “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.”
Edgington says she gave Family Dollar about eight months notice to arrange accommodations (both scheduling and space) since she planned to breastfeed her newborn baby. When she returned to work after two months of maternity leave, she noticed her schedule and shift location kept changing. “I was afraid to say anything about it because we had already had numerous discussions about having a second person there so I could pump. I worked those two days without pumping, so I ended up feverish, engorged, getting sharp pains in my breasts and chest.”
It was during the second week when Burghard encountered Edgington’s sign. Edgington told TODAY Parents, “I had never had to close the store down to pump and I never thought I would have to!”
After Feb. 1, Edgington says her situation took a turn for the worse. “[Family Dollar] asked me to step down from my position. I’m not willing to do that because I enjoy what I do. I would like to go back but I’m nervous to go back because I don’t know if there will be actual change.”
Lauren Smith Brody, consultant and author of “The Fifth Trimester,” says Edgington’s story is “not uncommon. Given her circumstances, the uncommon part was she continued to do what she felt right despite the risk of losing her job.”
Brody, who interviewed and surveyed more than 1,000 mothers for her book and through her consulting work, told TODAY Parents, “When you actually break it down, women typically are pumping on average, three times a day, and it took them 20 minutes to pump the milk but it also took them an additional 11.5 minutes cleaning and setting up. That’s the stuff that businesses can really, really help with.”
For Edgington, she says she and her family are currently “going paycheck to paycheck” and that “it’s a constant struggle.” But based on her experience, she hopes to encourage other moms to fight for their own workplace rights. “I did not expect the stress of having to figure out when and how I was going to be able to pump. I encourage all mothers to look up their workplace policy and verify that all of their rights listed are being enacted. If they’re not, do not be afraid to use your voice and if they don’t listen after being told your needs repeatedly, do what you need to do, put up a sign, and know that you are protected and supported.”