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.
As of August 2020, all that changed. The inspiration for this reform was the real-life case of a teacher who was forbidden from pumping during her planning period unless she stayed late after school to make up for the time she spent expressing milk, even though she used a hands-free pump that allowed her to work and express milk at the same time. Recognizing the unfairness of this, the legislature took action.
The New Statute Has Many Enhanced Protections
The new law is different in several ways. The new statute says “shall” where it used to say “may,” meaning that Georgia employers are now required to provide break time for the mother to breastfeed or express milk, and are now required to provide an appropriately private location (which cannot be a restroom.) The law also said these breastfeeding/pumping breaks must be paid breaks.
Georgia’s law is now more protective of breastfeeding moms at work than the federal law in some key areas. For one thing, Georgia’s law applies to both hourly and salaried employees. For another thing, there is no cut-off age after which the employer’s obligations end. So, under Georgia law, the employer is required to provide the paid breaks as long as the mother continues breastfeeding and/or pumping, whereas the federal law’s demands on the employer end after the child turns one year old.
If you have been denied proper break time or a proper place to breastfeed, or if you have been the victim of retaliation because you asserted your rights under the law, you may be unsure what to do and where to turn. Start by reaching out to the knowledgeable Atlanta pregnancy discrimination attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our firm has extensive experience helping harmed workers just like you in cases against employers and former employers. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.