What’s the Problem Accommodating Nursing Mothers Again?

I get it: running a business is tough. But we can accommodate new mothers in the workforce can’t we?

Buried in the thousands of pages of the new health care legislation is a federal mandate for employers to allow time and space for mothers of nursing children. While various state laws have required this for many years, the federal mandate will hopefully bring to light the issue. A Department of Labor fact sheet is available for those interested in learning more about the law.

What has been interesting to me is this undercurrent of opposition to accommodating nursing mothers. While it is usually under the guise of anonymous Internet comments and inappropriate comments among trusted colleagues around the water cooler, it doesn’t make it any easier for these laws to be applied. And that’s exactly the intent.

Interesting objections

What got me thinking about this was a MSNBC article about the new law, and I happened across an interesting quote:

But many businesses are concerned about how breastfeeding mandates will impact their bottom lines.

“This one-size-fits-all law, with the rights defined primarily by the subjective needs of the employee, will be burdensome for employers in several circumstances,” said Heather Owen, a partner with Constangy, Brooks & Smith — a national labor and employment firm that represents employers.

“For example, some employers do not have a facility to provide an employee with a private location for the lactation break,” she said. “This is especially true for employees who work outside an office, such as police, bus drivers or construction workers.”

Of course, that’s a law firm for you. Most laws related to employee rights are one size fits all and are often defined by the “subjective” needs of the employee.

That being said, while it may be true that some employers who meet the requirements may be burdened, that’s a reason to figure out creative solutions for those industries while also moving forward with implementing a law that is pretty reasonable for most companies.

When I was looking around to see what else was being said about the new law, I saw this piece on The Wall Street Journal’s The Juggle blog and some of these comments in response:

This is a burden to businesses. Why do business owners have to bend over backwards to accommodate parents?

What next, pregnancy is a disability? Oh wait, that one seems to be covered already too.

Benefits such as vacation are for every employee. Parental accommodations are only for those that chose to have children and work. The employees who chose not to have children don’t receive any benefit, and in most cases end up picking up the slack for the parents.

Today’s topic was not about FMLA, it was about the government cow-towing to mommies and forcing businesses to accept the choices of some of their employees without getting any say in the matter.

While I’ve learned to embrace comments (especially in the mostly anonymous world of online media), there seems to be a group of people bent on making it difficult on working mothers. I’ve heard it before.

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No apologies

Since I am younger, male, and have no kids of my own, people let their guard down when they want to talk to me about favoritism working parents get in the workplace. I know all of the arguments by heart. Why should I have to pick up the slack of a working parent? Why does that person get extra time off for taking care of their kid and I don’t get anything more than my vacation time?

My first question is always, “Do you want to switch places with them?” Even though I’d love kids some day, it’s not like I’m itching to jump on the bandwagon given how difficult it is to perform well in a job and raise your kid, too. And all of that extra time off is usually without pay. Many working parents (both male and female) typically had depleted time off because of unexpected illnesses or injuries to their kids.

And of course, don’t even mention to some of these people that they pick up the slack for non-parents all of the time too.

I can think of a few instances where a nursing mother accommodation would be a real pain, and I can also think of a few parents who have been a pain in my side about issues like this, but I think it is one of those things that most employers shouldn’t have an issue with when they look at it with the right mindset.

And, if you want to be an employer of choice and be able to recruit the best people, you have to include the many working moms I know in that mix with benefits like this.

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4 Comments on “What’s the Problem Accommodating Nursing Mothers Again?

  1. Lance, very nicely written article- sensitive, yet salient. The comments you shared are somewhat saddening to me. Don’t people realize that EVERYONE benefits by having healthy, well adjusted children growing up within their communities? Have we become so sour and me-first oriented that we no longer see the forest through the trees? I’d be interested to see how people would react if they read an article about a 3rd-world country or a dictatorship who didn’t allow mothers to work, or who failed to provide support for mothers in any way. I’m guessing most people would see that as a cultural failure. Do you think this myopia being exhibited is nurtured more by a profits-over-quality-of-life business environment, or by the reality-tv-Andy-Warhol-15-minutes-of-fame-idolatry of our media culture?

  2. Lance, great article. It’s disappointing that this mentality is still so prevalent, especially in today’s (finally) transparent environment.

    It’s a popular stance to blame government for “cow-towing” to employees that “make the decision” to reproduce, then slander and generalize parents as irresponsible and ineffective employees, and finally, even question the need for a basic human biological process – I mean, doesn’t the business come first?

    Business does not exist in and of itself. A species must reproduce in order to continue its existence. Business exists in this community and its time for business to evolve.

    Moms and parents are employees, consumers, and business owners. It’s interesting that a number of businesses have already taken the lead in creating policies and environments to support the diverse needs of their customers and employees. The rest of them, we’ll have to (again) depend on a much over-due laws to pull them out of the dark ages.

  3. This comment is greatness:

    “Business does not exist in and of itself. A species must reproduce in order to continue its existence. Business exists in this community and its time for business to evolve.”

    Excellent article, too.

  4. As a mother of twins who nursed my children for almost a year while working full time as an attorney, I understand first hand the challenges of mothers who wish to provide their newborns with the benefits of breast milk, while also providing their employers with a productive employee. I encourage readers to check out Constangy’s Client Bulletin on the topic, from January 6: http://www.constangy.com/communications-315.html. It gives a broader perspective and guidance for employers than the article referenced.

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