Nursing Mother Rule Is a Smart Retention Tool

All employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must provide lactation breaks.

April 1, 2011

How many of your employees are women? How many are mothers—or could be someday?

Chances are it’s a sizeable number. In 2009, 71.4% of women with children were in the work force, according to the U.S. Labor Department. And more than half of women with babies less than one year of age work.

Credit union employees are predominantly female, including 57% of credit union CEOs, according to CUNA’s 2010-2011 Complete Credit Union Staff Salary Survey Report.

To address this large group of employees, Congress included regulations on lactation breaks for hourly nonexempt employees in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). With the growing awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding, these regulations can help credit unions retain valued employees, and they may lower health-care costs.

Many mothers value the opportunity to continue nursing their children after returning to work. This mother-child connection during the workday can help establish the often elusive work-life balance working families seek.

Section 4207 of the PPACA amends the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to give staff reasonable breaks to express breast milk. Recently, the Labor Department published its preliminary interpretations of the Nursing Mothers Amendment to FLSA.

These interpretations define:

• Covered employers. All employers covered by FLSA are subject to this amendment. Companies that employ fewer than 50 people, however, could be exempt if the
accommodation would cause the employer to suffer an undue hardship, such as significant difficulty or expense.

• Covered employees. All nonexempt female employees who express breast milk for their nursing children are covered for up to one year. Exempt employees should have flexibility in their schedules to take breaks to express milk.

• “Reasonable” break. Employers must provide “a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk…each time such employee has a need to express the milk” [29 USC 207(r)(1)(A)] (emphasis added). The number and length of breaks will vary by employee due to physical and environmental factors.

Train managers to accept that the employee decides when and for how long she must express milk. In general, the Labor Department advises that a nursing mother typically will need two to three breaks during an eight-hour shift.

The length of each break may vary, but it must include time for expressing milk (typically 15 to 20 minutes), walking to the lactation room (if necessary), setting up the pump, cleaning the pump or parts, and storing expressed milk.

• Location for breaks. There are two requirements for the location of lactation breaks: a place other than a bathroom, and a location shielded from view and free from intrusion by co-workers and the public. The space should provide electrical outlets, a chair, and a table.

Consider how the employee can safely store the milk. Credit unions can provide a small refrigerator or allow an employee to bring a cooler to work.

• Use of regular breaks. There’s no requirement to pay employees for lactation breaks. If an employee takes a lactation break as part of a normal paid break, however, she should be compensated the same as other staff for break time. The additional break time does not need to be compensated.

• State laws. State laws also provide guidelines on lactation breaks. Employers must comply with the provisions of either law, whichever are more generous to employees.

• Enforcement. Failure to comply can result in a Labor Department investigation and legal claims.

Many credit unions already provide lactation breaks and simply need to modify their policies to comply with Labor Department standards. Train managers and provide
employees with a written policy regarding practices for lactation breaks.

Not only could this help your credit union retain experienced employees, considering the potential health benefits of breastfeeding it also may reduce the sick time employees take for a child’s illness.

KELLY TILDEN is a shareholder at Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Ore.