Breaks for breastfeeding workers under the health care reform act

Due to the exhaustive coverage in the past week and a half, most of us are well aware of the key changes that will occur under the recently signed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But with all the attention the sweeping changes are getting, some of the smaller, less controversial, developments are flying under the radar.

Take breaks for breastfeeding mothers, for example. Under the new health care reform bill, employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), must provide “reasonable” breaks to mothers to express milk for their infants up to one year old.

The FLSA amendment also requires employers to furnish a private space, other than a restroom, for mothers to express milk. (Employers with fewer than 50 employees, however, may be excused from this requirement if it would “impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense.”)

While many states already require unpaid breaks and private areas for breastfeeding mothers, the health care reform bill will make it a federal requirement for employers.

For advocacy groups like the National Women’s Law Center, this is an important development for working women. As Kelli Garcia, a Fellow with NWLC and contributor to its blog, shares:

Not all mothers are able or want to breastfeed. Sometimes, it’s because there are too many barriers that make breastfeeding challenging for new mothers. Thanks to this law, fear of losing your job because you need to take a break to pump or fear of exposing yourself to your co-workers because you cannot find a private place to express breast milk will no longer be among those barriers.

Garcia adds that although it would be even better if employers were required to provide paid breaks for mothers to pump, the law is a step in the right direction.

In the meantime, lawmakers are working to define what is “reasonable” break time and appropriate private space, as well as the penalties for violating the requirements.

What about your company? Are you in a state that already requires this benefit to breastfeeding mothers? And if so, what have you done regarding scheduling and space to make these requirements a win-win for you and your employees?

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