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11th Circuit Rules on Breastfeeding at Work

trying to do everythingOne aspect of health care reform that got early attention from the media were changes to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requiring employers to provide working breastfeeding moms private breast pumping rooms.   According to the United States Department of Labor,

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.

In one of the first cases to test this law, the 11th Circuit Court has ruled that breastfeeding mothers do not get to dictate where this pumping room is located.  It is up to the employer’s discretion.

In Miller v. Roche Sur. & Cas. Co, an employee did not like the provided space and felt it violated the law, as the company would not purchase window blinds for her office to use instead of an empty office it had designated.

JD Supra Law News reports on the case and ruling:

The employer had made available vacant, nearby offices as a private location where the employee could express breast milk. The employee preferred to use her office, which was open to public view, and she taped manila folders to the windows for privacy. But because her office did not have a lock, she claimed that co-workers on at least two occasions walked in on her while she was expressing milk.

Otherwise, the employee was given the necessary breaks and had access to a private place. As a result, the district court concluded there was not enough evidence for a reasonable jury to find that the employer had violated the FLSA’s breastfeeding breaks requirement. It granted the employer’s motion for judgment as a matter of law.

The case brings up an interesting consequence of the law that should be considered. What if they employer were to provide a large closet, for example, for breast pumping?  Anyone who has pumped or breast fed realizes relaxation helps let down, so being comfortable is an important consideration when expressing milk.  On the other hand, employers who provide space in good faith could be at the whim of mothers who each demand their own standards.

As a part time working mother who was able to take her breastfeeding children to work with her, my need to pump at work was limited.  It was only when attending trainings at the county office of education that I attempted pumping at work.  My babies were welcome at these trainings, but as toddlers they were not.  Since we breastfed past two years of age, my milk was still flowing.   I tried to pump in a bathroom stall, but I did not have an extension cord. I pumped by the sink, but there was no place to sit.  I inevitably gave up.   At future trainings, I did not pump but dealt with engorgement.  This was prior to the new law.

The 11th Circuit Court’s decision is “unpublished” meaning it does not establish precedent.

Image:  Trying To Do Everything on BigStock

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