Breastfeeding Rights

Legal Guidance for Atlanta Employers and Employees on Discrimination Issues

Breastfeeding can provide valuable benefits to a child, but working mothers often face challenges in continuing to breastfeed after they return to work. The federal law requiring employers to provide time and space for an employee to express breast milk is relatively recent. Many employees and employers are genuinely uninformed regarding what the law is. The employment discrimination attorneys at Mays & Kerr have a deep understanding of the rules regarding breastfeeding rights and can assist Atlanta employers and employees with any related questions or concerns they may have.

Breastfeeding in the United States

The Centers for Disease Control reports that, in 2011, approximately 79% of newborn infants in the United States began breastfeeding, but just 49% were still breastfeeding at six months and only 27% at 12 months. Georgia’s numbers are lower than the national average.

Some percentage of this drop in breastfeeding may be related to the challenges mothers face in continuing to breastfeed after returning to work. A supportive work environment may allow some mothers to breastfeed for the entire recommended time.

Fair Labor Standards Act and Other Federal Laws

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to provide break time for nursing mothers. The law now requires employers subject to the FLSA to provide reasonable break time to allow an employee to express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth. The law does not specify the frequency or duration of the breaks, but instead it states that the employer is to provide reasonable break periods as frequently as the employee needs them. The employer must also provide the employee with a private place, other than a bathroom, for this purpose.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not required to comply with the law if doing so would create an undue hardship. Additionally, the law applies only to “non-exempt” employees. Generally, this will mean that the employer is not required to provide such break periods for salaried employees. An experienced employment law attorney can advise you on whether the law applies in your situation.

FLSA prohibits an employer from discharging or discriminating against an employee for filing a complaint or testifying related to a potential violation of it.

Other laws may also provide protection to breastfeeding employees. Discrimination against an employee based on lactation or breastfeeding may be a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lactation may be considered a condition related to pregnancy and childbirth and therefore covered under Title VII as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (“PDA”). Title VII provides protection to the employee against discrimination or harassment based on sex. The PDA amended Title VII to include pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions in the prohibition against sex discrimination.

Georgia Law

Georgia has a statute that allows an employer to provide unpaid break time to permit a mother to express breast milk. When possible, the break time is to run concurrently with any other break time provided to the employee. The statute further states that the employer may provide a private location for the employee. The employer is not required to provide the time if doing so would “unduly disrupt” its operations. O.C.G.A. § 34-1-6. Unfortunately, the language in the statute is permissive and provides no means of enforcement.

Remedies

The remedies available in any discrimination case are highly dependent upon the underlying facts. An employee who suffers harassment, discrimination, or retaliation may be entitled to injunctive relief, reinstatement or rehiring, back pay, and front pay. In some circumstances, punitive damages may be available under Title VII, and liquidated damages may be available for retaliation under FLSA.

Discuss Your Employment Matters with a Skilled Atlanta Attorney

The employment law lawyers at Mays & Kerr can assist you with any issues involving breastfeeding rights that may arise in an Atlanta workplace. If you have a concern related to breastfeeding at your job, call us at 1-877-986-5529 or contact us online. We will set aside the time to learn about the details of your situation and discuss your options.