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The Practical Employer

The Next Nominee for Worst Employer of 2017 Is … the Pumping Preventer

If you tell a lactating employee to 'wrap those boobs up' so that she can get back to work, you might be the worst employer of 2017.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a six-figure verdict in favor of a Stephanie Hicks, a former narcotics task force investigator for the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, police department. She sued, and won, after her former employer refused to permit her to pump her breast milk after returning from maternity leave.

Refused might be an over-exaggeration. But not by much. The police department allowed her to pump, but only in the not-so-private confines of the locker room, where any co-worker passing by could see. Aside from invading her privacy, it also violates federal law, which requires employers to provide women with a place to pump “other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.”

Federal law also requires employers provide lactating employees unpaid breaks to pump, which it appears this employer also denied to Hicks. Among the more egregious statements made to her:

When she would head downstairs to pump, she would often get a call on her radio from her coworkers telling her to “wrap those boobs up” and get back to work.

Ultimately, she quit her job and successfully claimed that the police department subjected her to a hostile work environment and constructively discharged her.

Look, I’m not a woman, I don’t know what it’s like to lactate, and both of my kids were bottle fed. But, I know enough to know that if you tell a lactating employee to “wrap those boobs up” so that she can get back to work, you might be the worst employer of 2017.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.