New Laws Protect Breastfeeding Employees

New laws protect breastfeeding employees

Returning to work after having a baby can be tough for new parents, but it can be especially difficult for breastfeeding mothers.  However, employers can play an important role in supporting breastfeeding, even when the mother is at work. Creating a comfortable space and time for expressing milk is not only smart for business and helpful for breastfeeding employees, it’s the law. Offering a lactation support program can help moms continue the breastfeeding relationship and has a good return on investment. Workplace lactation support can reduce employee absenteeism, increase company loyalty and retain employees. Since 58 percent of new mothers are in the workforce in Clark County, it’s important for companies to understand the law and how they can support breastfeeding employees. 

The law

The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space to express milk for one year after the child’s birth. Washington State also provides protection for mothers who are breastfeeding. However, beginning July 28, 2019, a new state law expanded on the existing federally mandated rights for break time and private spaces to pump breast milk. The new state law lengthens the amount of time that employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for a worker who is breastfeeding from one year to two years. The new law also extends the requirements to employers with 15 or more employees. 

What can you do

Almost all Washington mothers start breastfeeding at birth. But by 10 weeks, fewer mothers continue to breastfeed. In Clark County, 26 percent of mothers stop breastfeeding due to going back to school or work. Company values, physical space limitations, and type of work can influence lactation support. Many moms in physically demanding jobs, such as waitressing, janitorial services, and other food service industries, struggle to find time to take breast-pumping breaks during their shifts.  Companies that support breastfeeding employees can make that easier.

How can employers support breastfeeding families? 

  • Work with breastfeeding employees to identify a reasonable break schedule for expressing milk. 
  • Provide a comfortable, private space for expressing milk. If your workplace doesn’t have a space, work with the employee to identify a convenient space and work schedule to accommodate their needs. 
  • Develop a lactation support policy and guideline for employees.  

Public Health can provide work sites with free technical assistance to create a breastfeeding-friendly environment. In addition, our community health worker is visiting local businesses along the corridor to ensure they’re aware we offer these services and answer questions about breastfeeding accommodations for employees.

For more information about breastfeeding-friendly work sites, contact Healthy Communities program coordinator Yasmina Aknin at Yasmina.aknin@clark.wa.gov or call 564.397.7312.

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