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Breastfeeding employees may face unintentional discrimination

When it comes to their children, new mothers have to grapple with important decisions every day. For some, this means deciding whether to return to work or stay at home, while other Michigan mothers might be torn on whether to use cloth or disposable diapers. World Breastfeeding Week, which takes place from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, 2014, highlights a difficult decision that some working mothers may have faced discrimination in the workplace for -- how to feed their child.

A federal law implemented in 2010 gives employees the legal right to express their breast milk during provided break times. These break times are to be provided for the year following the child’s birth, and they must take place in a clean area. This means that employers cannot tell breastfeeding employees that they must pump in the bathroom.

Despite this law, a McDonald’s employee says that her rights as an employee were seriously violated when her manager insisted that she use the restaurant's bathroom to pump breast milk for her child. After she complained to the Labor Department, the manager allegedly went even farther, and said that she could no longer pump in the restaurant period. Instead, she had to clock out of work and walk to a nearby library in order to pump. The walk took 30 minutes round trip, not including the time it took her to pump. She also says that her manager cut her work hours by over half.

After an investigation into the employee’s allegations, she was granted back pay for the hourly wages that she missed while clocking out and leaving to pump. McDonald’s also agreed to allow a portable tent to be set up in the employee break room so that she could pump. While it is suspected that the discrimination was not intentional, and instead simply due to a lack of knowledge on the manager’s part, this does not excuse a company or employer from treating workers fairly and in accordance with the law. It is possible to pursue a discrimination claim if a Michigan breastfeeding employee feels that they have suffered discrimination due to their need to express breast milk for their child. If successfully litigated, the discrimination claim can adequately compensate an individual, which may include lost wages.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Dirty Bathrooms, No Privacy: The Horrifying Struggles Of Breastfeeding Moms Who Need To Pump At Work", Dave Jamieson, July 24, 2014

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