HR Management & Compliance

Employers Slow to Nurture Breastfeeding Break Rule; DOL Begins Enforcement

It’s been two years since passage of a controversial federal law guaranteed break time and private space for nursing mothers to express milk at work. Women’s rights and business groups say many women who could benefit from the new right may not know about it.

Regardless of whether or not employees are aware, the Department of Labor has started enforcing the law, meaning employers can no longer plead ignorance of the new requirements. In fiscal year 2011, 23 companies were investigated for violations and 15 received citations, according to a DOL spokeswoman. 

 The break time requirement stems from an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act buried deep within the sweeping health reforms of 2010. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires most organizations — public and private — with more than 49 employees to provide break time and a private room for nursing mothers to express milk to take home for their nursing child. Like other FLSA requirements, the provision is enforceable by DOL.

Although the law doesn’t get specific, it requires organizations to allow nursing mothers to take “reasonable” breaks for up to one year after the birth of the nursing child. Employers also must provide nursing mothers with private space, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.

Breastfeeding advocates, including some business advocates, argue that workplace policies that encourage breastfeeding make good business sense. A brochure developed by the Business Group on Health cites various government and medical sources claiming that one-day absences to care for sick children occur more than twice as often for mothers of formula-feeding infants than for mothers who breastfeed. It also states that for every 1,000 babies not breastfed, there are an extra 2,033 physician visits, 212 days in the hospital and 609 prescriptions.

In addition, organizations with progressive lactation policies tend to get high rankings from workers and repeatedly make it onto lists of the best places to work, which can help improve recruitment, retention and overall employee loyalty, supporters say. 

We will be running a series of posts about the new lactation policy, best practices and industry responses in the next several weeks. Search for posts using the word “lactation.” Subscribers to Thompson’s FLSA library should look to their newsletters for an in depth package about the new policy, including many features that won’t appear on the blog.