What Workplace Rights Look Like for Moms at the End of the Decade
Here’s what we’ve learned in the last 10 years.
The past 10 years have been big ones for women’s rights at work, with a burst of renewed energy and awareness for the issue. From pregnancy to workplace lactation rights, the fight for equality and protection under the law has surged — though progress has not come without its challenges.
The beginning of the decade emerged as the dawn of a progressive new era. In 2010 President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law. While the Act was not without controversy, it included two provisions that protected the rights of breastfeeding mothers. The first required certain employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space to express breast milk. The second provision mandated insurers to provide coverage of breastfeeding supplies and support services.
To make this possible, the Act amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), thereby creating the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers Provision.” The creation of the provision was a groundbreaking piece of legislation.
However, the intervening years have highlighted some issues with the law.
For one, the provision may not apply to employers with under 50 employees if its enforcement would impose an undue hardship (which the employer has a burden to prove). Since the protections are afforded by FLSA, which applies to non-exempt employees, federal lactation rights also apply only to those classified as non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). As such, employees who are exempt from FLSA are not covered by the law. This typically includes those who earn a regular salary over $23,660 and perform certain exempt job duties.
The federal law is a little toothless when it comes to enforcement. The law does not currently provide for damages, though it does provide for accommodation and back-pay if a worker was fired or lost income as a result of pumping.