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States Beginning to Legislate Mother-friendly Benefits

August 9, 1999
Related Topics: Wages and Hours, Featured Article, Benefits
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Issue: Two employees are now on family leave after the birth of their children. You expect them back to work shortly. You have heard through the grapevine that both mothers are breastfeeding their babies and you wonder whether you need to provide break time and a private place for the mothers to express milk when they return to work. Are there any legal requirements for employers to provide such benefits?

Answer: It depends on where your workplace is located. A mother-friendly trend is developing in the state legislatures. States are beginning to enact laws to provide for mothers who breastfeed infants. Some laws are very general. Montana (effective October 1, 1999), New Mexico and Texas require that a mother be allowed to breastfeed her baby in any location in which she is authorized to be. That language presumably includes the workplace. Oregon approved a law on June 23, 1999, stating in its entirety, "A woman may breastfeed her child in a public place."

Break times.
Minnesota requires that employers (public and private) provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express milk for her infant child. If possible, break times are to run concurrently with the break time already provided to the employee. However, break time is not required if it would unduly disrupt operations.

Breaks and private locations.
Tennessee requires employers (public and private) to provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express milk for her infant child under the same terms as in Minnesota. Such breaks may be provided in Georgia. Both Tennessee and Georgia also ask employers to make a reasonable effort to provide a private location for the employee, other than a toilet stall, that is close to her work station.

What should HR do?
You may not have a legal obligation now to provide breaks and facilities for employees who are breast feeding their babies; but, if it would not unduly disrupt your business operations, why not consider providing unpaid break time and a private place for the expression of breast milk? This could be a good opportunity to initiate a family-friendly policy at a relatively low cost.

Texas allows employers to use a "mother-friendly" designation in promotional materials if the business supports the practice of worksite breastfeeding and meets four basic requirements. The requirements, restated below, can be used as guidelines for employers interested in providing the benefit.

  1. Allow work schedule flexibility, including scheduling breaks and work patterns to provide time for expression of milk;
  2. Provide accessible locations allowing privacy;
  3. Give access nearby to a clean, safe water source and a sink for washing hands and rinsing out any needed breast-pumping equipment; and
  4. Provide access to hygienic storage alternatives in the workplace for the mother's breast milk.

Source: CCH Incorporated is a leading provider of information and software for human resources, legal, accounting, health care and small business professionals. CCH offers human resource management, payroll, employment, benefits, and worker safety products and publications in print, CD, online and via the Internet. For more information and other updates on the latest HR news, check our Web site at http://hr.cch.com.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion.

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