Pumping at Work - The New Disability?

Filed under: Opinions

A baby breastfeedingThese days, companies have to do a lot to accommodate employees with special needs. From ensuring access for the physically challenged to preventing discrimination, the rules and regulations can be complex and confusing. But how far should business have to go in adapting the workplace and the position to meet the needs of an employee? Does every need have to be accommodated, including personal choices such as nursing, or only involuntary medical and physical conditions?

It looks like, in Ohio, at least, the state's Supreme Court will be deciding some of these questions. Should nursing mothers be given opportunities to pump during their work day? Should companies be required to offer time to moms so that they can pump? Or should companies be able to tell mothers they want employees who aren't going to waste half their day sitting in the bathroom with machinery attached to their chest?

An Ohio woman was fired, she says, for taking extra bathroom breaks in order to pump breast milk. According to LaNisa Allen, a former warehouse laborer at Totes/Isotoner Corporation, she was let go after she began taking the extra breaks to relieve the pain of engorgement. Her scheduled ten-minute break at 8:00 a.m. was insufficient for her to pump enough to last until her lunch break at 11:00 a.m. The company claims, however, that "breastfeeding doesn't legally constitute an illness or medical condition." They also say that legal precedents show that companies are not required to give extra breaks to women who need to pump.

It seems that for the year or so that most women in this country breastfeed, companies ought to be able to make some allowances. I don't think anyone is going to go out and get pregnant just so she can get a few extra minutes sitting in an unused office with a pump attached. But how far do employers need to go to support their staff?

Rae, a first grade teacher in the Bay Area, juggles teaching and pumping every day. "Because I pump in my room," says Rae, who is currently nursing her third baby, "it's very stressful. When it's raining, the kids are inside. I have to be in there when the kids are there; I can't just leave to go pump somewhere." So how does she handle her need to pump when her students were inside for lunch and recess? "I pump during PE time if the PE teacher shows up -- otherwise, if I'm lucky, one of the other teachers will walk my kids to lunch and that gives me fifteen minutes or so to pump while they're eating their lunch."

Rae is fortunate; she has sympathetic co-workers who will help her out in a bind. But not everyone feels that way. Rachael Larimore, writing at Slate Magazine, says that women would be well served by offering to arrive early and stay late to make up the time spent pumping, but she also says that those who argue that the need to breastfeed or pump is not a medical condition are "either men or maybe women who've never arrived at work with a breast pump in tow only to realize that part of the device is sitting at home on the kitchen counter. I can assure you it's painful."

I agree. If companies can allow smokers to light up on a regular basis throughout the day and make allowances for workers who need to use the restroom frequently, I would say that companies should support women in one of the most important things they can do for their child.

What do you think? Do companies need to support women who pump at work or should it be something that a mother does on her own time?

How much do companies need to accommodate breastfeeding mothers?
All the way -- whatever the mom needs, the company should allow for it.83 (25.2%)
As much as possible -- The company should make reasonable accommodations.198 (60.0%)
Not much -- The company should help, but not at the expense of profits and productivity.33 (10.0%)
Not at all -- it's the mother's problem; she got pregnant, not her employer.16 (4.8%)

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.