Does Your Company Accommodate New Mothers? It's Not Optional

December 4, 2018 - minute read

shutterstock_566796565Undoubtedly, your employee handbook covers quite a bit of ground. But if it doesn’t include a formal lactation accommodation policy, it’s not be as complete as it could be.

After all, young mothers are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce, according to the Centers for Disease Control., and 81% of new moms at least try to breastfeed their babies.  

Lactation accommodations aren’t a ‘nice to have’—they’re required under the FLSA’s Section 7(r) Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision, enacted in 2010 through the Affordable Care Act. Employers subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act are required to provide nursing employees with break time and a private space to breast pump at work. In addition, 29 states have lactation accommodation requirements of their own. 

Creating a formal lactation policy helps employers remain FLSA compliant. But beyond avoiding violations and potential six-figure labor lawsuits, the practice also offers several tangible business advantages that some employers may not be aware of.

The Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision

This provision arose from recognition that nursing babies and their moms enjoy proven health benefits over formula-fed babies. Breastfeeding helps prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, ear infections and Type 2 diabetes. The longer a woman nurses, the less likely she is to be diagnosed with breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

In a nutshell, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision requires that employers provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” pump their breast milk for one year after a child’s birth. It also requires that employers provide a private place, “other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion” for employees to pump.

Employers aren’t required to pay employees for pumping breaks. However, if an employer provides paid breaks to employees, an employee who uses her break time to pump must be compensated the same way as her coworkers. If she needs time beyond her paid breaks, she needn’t be compensated for it.

What is “reasonable break time?” According to the Department of Health and Human Services, most nursing mothers take two or three 15-20 minute pumping breaks during an eight-hour workday, adding up to less than an hour a day.

Employers who don’t comply can face expensive settlements as well as bad press. For example, in 2016, the Tuscaloosa, Alabama Police Department was required to pay a $374,000 settlement to a former police officer who, among other things, was forced to pump in an open locker room.

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Benefits Beyond FLSA Compliance

Enacting a formal lactation policy can ensure you remain consistently compliant, even if you operate in multiple locations. For one thing, a lactation policy will outline the responsibilities of both managers and employees, so everyone has a process to follow. It helps address what can be considered a personal issue in a professional way, lessening potential embarrassment.

In addition, as an employer who actively encourages new moms to breastfeed, you may reap these benefits as well:

  • Lower Heath Insurance Costs – Because breastfed babies and nursing moms get sick less often, that translates to lower healthcare usage. For example, CIGNA found that its Corporate Lactation Program reaped a savings of $240,000 per year in healthcare expenses.

  • Lower Rates of Absenteeism – When babies are healthier, parents miss less worktime. In that same study, CIGNA also realized a savings of $60,000 per year due to reduced maternal absenteeism.
  • Higher Retention and Loyalty – Studies have shown that nursing moms who receive support from their employers are more likely to return to work after their babies are born. In one study of five employers with strong lactation policies, 94% of employees returned to their company after maternity leave, compared to the national average of 59% at the time.

What Your Lactation Accommodation Policy Should Cover

A well-defined lactation accommodation policy will address the following details:

  • How pumping breaks are to be scheduled.
  • Whether pumping breaks are paid or unpaid (and if hourly employees need to clock out for breaks).
  • What coworker(s) will cover for the employee, if needed, while on pumping breaks.
  • Where the designated lactation space is and how privacy is maintained.
  • What amenities are available in the lactation space (chair, tabletop, electrical outlet, etc.).
  • How the space will be scheduled when more than one employee is using it.
  • Who is responsible for cleaning up/maintaining the lactation space.

In addition, it should define:

  • How managers are trained on the company lactation accommodation policy and what their responsibilities are.
  • How the lactation policy is communicated to employees.
  • How HR staff, managers and nursing employees should communicate regarding related issues when an employee is using lactation accommodations.   

While some employers are reluctant to tackle a potentially-delicate subject formally, a thoughtful lactation accommodation policy can not only help you stay compliant, but benefit your company and employees. At EPAY Systems, we’re always looking for win-wins like this. Learn how we can give you more HR wins.  

Filed Under: Compliance Human Capital Management