If you are familiar with the science surrounding breastfeeding, you know that a mother’s breast milk offers her baby many health benefits. In fact, earlier this year, a report in the Augusta Chronicle trumpeted a study from the Medical College of Georgia that revealed that a mother’s breast milk contains special “protective factors” against the COVID-19 virus. With all these health benefits, it is no wonder that so many new mothers, including working moms, strive to breastfeed or express (“pump”) breast milk for their babies. Of course, as working moms know, balancing employment and maternal obligations can be tricky, especially at some workplaces. Fortunately, there are laws in place, so if you’ve been the victim of workplace discrimination triggered by your breastfeeding, expressing milk, or other pregnancy-related condition, then you should contact an experienced Atlanta pregnancy discrimination lawyer to discuss your options.
Here in Georgia, the laws protecting breastfeeding moms in the workplace got a lot stronger last year. The legislature passed a bill that significantly modified O.C.G.A 34-1-6. Before the change, the law said that an “employer may provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. The employer may make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location (in close proximity to the work area), other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.”
It is important to “unpack” all of the details of this statute to understand the challenges breastfeeding moms on the job faced before the new bill became law. Almost every time you see the word “may” in a statute, it means “optional.” So, before August 2020, employers could provide break time to nursing moms – and could provide a space to breastfeed or pump — if the employer wanted to. The law imposed no demands on the employer at all. And that break time, if the employer provided it, was unpaid.