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Employee Handbooks can Proactively Address Family Issues


As many parents might agree, having a child brings many changes to a person’s life, not the least of which is work scheduling. For example, mothers with a newborn that are returning to work may require regular breaks for pumping breast milk. That new fact of life may continue for several months.

A recent amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act provides employment protection to workers who are breastfeeding. Called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the FLSA amendment requires employers to provide reasonable break time each time an employee needs to express breast milk -- each time that an employee requires a break for that purpose. 

The FLSA amendment further contemplates that breast feeding may continue for one year after a child’s birth. Finally, the law mandates that the conditions provided to such women must be private, shielded from intrusion and in a non-bathroom place.

A recent employment lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union illustrates that employers may face consequences for failing to comply with the FLSA’s requirements. According to the complaint, a six-year factory employee and new mother was first directed to a bathroom, and then to a first-aid room for expressing milk.

When the employee requested alternate accommodations from her employer, she was allegedly given the choice of a room with glass walls or the shower room. When the employee complained, the complaint alleges that the employer retaliated by switching her work schedule to nights.

As an employment law attorney might agree, issues under the FLSA can arise when employers haven’t proactively planned for the range of life issues that their employees might experience. Although breastfeeding standards may not be articulated in an employment agreement, such accommodations could be described in employee handbooks. Unpaid family or medical leave issues could also be addressed in such a publication.

Source: huffingtonpost.com, “Bobbi Bockoras, Breastfeeding Mom, Allegedly Forced By Employer To Pump On Dirty Floor,” Katy Waldman