Booby Traps Series: Lawmakers have expanded our rights to pump at work. Now the hard part.

This is the 68th post in a series on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

Pumping at work isn’t easy.  I remember how much time and commitment it took when I did it, nearly ten years ago.  And I had the best set up you could imagine:  my own office with a door, near complete flexibility with my time, a supportive employer and co-workers, and a good pump.  Two years prior, California had become one of the first states to guarantee my right to a place and the use of break time to pump.  But my situation was so ideal that I never even needed to learn the requirements of the law.  The worst problem I faced (apart from the monotony of pumping) was explaining to the people staffing the x-ray machines at my workplace entrance, on a daily basis, that the electrical device they were viewing on their screens was a pump, not a bomb.

Not so for many moms around the country at that time.  I’ve helped many women with tight work schedules (such as teachers who get 20 minute lunch breaks) figure out how to pump at work.  One mother stands out most clearly:  Four or five years ago, when I was working in a Massachusetts hospital, I helped a mother who was planning to return to work – in a slaughterhouse.  Her state didn’t (and still doesn’t) protect her right to pump require that she have a place to do it, and the Affordable Care Act was not yet law.  She knew she was facing an uphill battle with her boss, co-workers, and challenges presented by the nature of her work and the kind of facility in which she worked.

These days this mom would likely be protected under the Affordable Care Act.   And if she’s lived in one of  24 other states, or the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico she would have had the support of their pumping laws.

Since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act (and it’s subsequent upholding this year by the Supreme Court), many women in states not covered by state laws have gained rights to pump at work, too.  This act also paved the way for a mandate on insurance companies to cover pump rentals.

Implementation of new laws is often bumpy, and sometimes problems make it into the news, such as these recent stories of a 911 dispatcher in Colorado and this teacher in California (both states which have their own pumping at work laws).  And the federal Department of Labor reports having cited 23 companies for failure to comply with federal law.

Getting legislation passed is a tough job that can take years and a lot of effort.  But I think that the truly hard part is the “ground game.” Making sure that moms and employers know about the requirements of the law is a crucial tep, which is why I’m happy to be working with United States Breastfeeding Committee to spread the word.

In the end this all comes down to moms and employers doing the hard work of making the laws a reality.  Do they know about their rights under state and federal law?  How will they make it work?  What private place (not a bathroom!) will be used for pumping?  Will they go above the requirements of the law and provide (as some universities do) a hospital grade pump for moms to use?  If some moms in a company’s employ are covered by the Affordable Care Act but others are not, will they cover them all?  Implementing the law requires knowledge, skill, and in some cases creativity.

For information on who is covered by the Affordable Care Act, what it requires, and what to do if you run into problems exercising your rights, check out this page at the United States Breastfeeding Committee.  And for information on your rights under both state and federal law, see Jake Marcus’ site, Breastfeeding Law. And to support those mothers not covered by the Affordable Care Act, we should all get behind Representative Carolyn Maloney’s efforts to remedy this and other deficits in the law.

Pumping at work isn’t easy.  And for some moms it’s really tough, even under the best of circumstances.  But we’ve made tremendous progress in the law since the days when I was pumping.  Now the hard part, mom by mom, employer by employer.

Did you or do you pump at work?  How have state and/or federal laws affected your experience?  What has been the most challenging?

Image credit:  Wikimedia Commons

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5 Comments | Last revised on 01/01/2013

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