Breastfeeding Laws in the workplace
I recently came across a question about breastfeeding laws and how much time an employer was legally required to provide employees in need of this time. It’s a good question and a rather complicated one, especially considering that the focus of the question is on policy and not on the human the law was designed to protect.
“Traditional” workplace culture is one with great focus on the needs of a predominately male workforce. One where, in general, a woman’s role was supportive and expendable, filled by another when one was ready to get married and children. We didn’t see many women returning to the workforce after having babies. While the times may be changing, the culture around women in the workplace has not caught up to the needs of working parents.
It can be a big ask to take several longish breaks a day to express milk, but it is vitally important, not just for the baby but also for the company’s relationship with the worker. If you have not personally experienced the joys of 1) having a baby, 2) leaving that baby with someone so YOU can go to work and 3) being responsible for the nourishment of said baby while also maintaining a career after taking leave for an extended period of time – let me tell you, it’s STRESSFUL!!! And that’s just the very teeny tiny tip of said iceberg.
While some have an easy-breezy time nursing, most struggle and one of the biggest obstacles to successful nursing/pumping is stress (see previous statement regarding life of a working mother). If your goal is to offer your employees the support they need to do this important work (i.e. feeding a tiny human), don’t set them up to fail by restricting the time they have. If your goal is to do the least required to comply with breastfeeding laws, you may want to reconsider your approach. After all, what is the point of allowing a break that will not provide the time needed to successfully express milk?
Each person will need a different amount of time to complete the pumping process so set broad parameters and manageable expectations, especially right after the employee returns to work. This is a temporary situation and the more flexibility the employer can provide, the more successful and efficient the employee will become. An added byproduct of that flexibility will be a loyal and dedicated employee. Let us not forget that we have the great responsibility of balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of our workforce. This is one of the many ways we can affect the change needed to accommodate our collective future and the very real needs of half of our workforce, while improving employee engagement, loyalty and satisfaction.
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