Any new mom knows they have a lot to learn. The challenges and changes of motherhood are always present, no matter how old a child gets. Aside from the traditional concerns of raising a child, many new mothers may be worried about how growing their family will influence their life both in and out of the workplace.
To help protect new mothers and mothers-to-be, there are a few different laws in place to help them ease into their new role more comfortably. As an HR professional working with new mothers or mothers-to-be, you can help your employees understand these laws, what they include, and what they should do if they feel someone is infringing upon them.
1. Breastfeeding in the Workplace
With 35.5 percent of mothers with infants under a year old working full-time and another 16.1 percent working part-time, it is natural that many new moms have concerns about pumping breast milk while on the job. Luckily, there are laws in place that make it easier for moms to pump while at work.
According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must provide breastfeeding mothers with the time and space to express their milk while at work. This law recognizes that women may need various amounts of time to express their milk, so it does not indicate how long that break must be. Instead, it simply states they should be given a reasonable amount of time.
The law also states that this time does not need to be paid, unless the new mom chooses to pump during an already-paid break. It is up to the employer to decide whether or not they would like a new mother to clock out while taking this kind of break. The FSLA also states that the employer must provide the new mother with a comfortable and private room to express her milk while at work. While this cannot be a bathroom, it does not necessarily need to be a room designated for this purpose. A private office space or flexible workspace may be used instead.
2. Breastfeeding in Public
The workplace probably isn’t the only place a new mother is worried about expressing their milk or breastfeeding. Fear of breastfeeding in public is a very real fear for many new mothers. The rules and regulations surrounding where and when a new mother can breastfeed in public depends on the state they live in.
In most states, breastfeeding is not considered indecent exposure. However, some states may require the new mother to cover up with a blanket or other material if she is breastfeeding or pumping in a public space. If the state does not have breastfeeding laws, the business owner typically determines the rules for breastfeeding in their space, but they are not allowed to discriminate against a new mother for wanting to breastfeed. Make sure new mothers know they can always go to a federal building if they’re looking for a comfortable place to breastfeed. Courthouses, government buildings, national parks and other federally owned pieces of property always allow public breastfeeding, regardless of state laws.
3. Leaving and Returning to Work After Childbirth
Unfortunately, the U.S. does not provide guaranteed paid maternity leave, making it extremely difficult for mothers to stay home from work for the time they truly need. Almost 25 percent of working women only take two weeks off after having a child.
According to the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers must allow new mothers to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off when having or adopting a child. Unfortunately for many parents, employers are not required to pay new mothers during this time. For someone without the financial stability to take the full 12 weeks without pay, they may need to opt for a shorter maternity leave.
Under the same act, employers must provide new mothers with the same health insurance benefits during that time off. When a new mother decides to come back to work, FMLA states they must be given the equivalent position when they return. An employer cannot permanently fill the position while a new mother is out on maternity leave.
If a mother or newborn experiences complications during childbirth, they may be entitled to additional time off. However, like the other 12 weeks, FMLA does not require employers to pay new mothers during this extended time off.
If an employer does not comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act, it is considered a form of employee discrimination. This means a new mother may be tempted to take legal action against the company if they feel their employer is not complying. Make sure your employees know about the policies offered by your company and that they are supported in taking off the time needed to heal and bond.
Becoming a new mother can be a scary time, but helping employees understand the laws in place to protect a new mother can make it a bit easier. Before an employee leaves for maternity leave, take some time to sit down with them and make sure they understand each of these three laws.
Sarah Landrum is a career expert and the founder of Punched Clocks, a career and happiness site for young professionals. Want more advice on keeping employees happy and engaged? Follow Sarah on social media and subscribe to her newsletter.
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