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Forced to Resign Over Lactation? Why We Need Pregnant Worker Protections

Forced to Resign Over Lactation? Why We Need Pregnant Worker Protections

Returning to work after maternity leave tends to be hard for any parent. Unlike many countries in the world, partially paid parental leave is a mere few weeks at best, and company policies are at the whim of a business owner. Vacations and short term disability can sometimes be brought in as a supplement, but often new mothers find that the only real benefit to U.S. maternity leave policies is that it is supposed to make it harder for a company to let an employee go simply because she gave birth or took leave.

Harder, but not impossible.

When Angela Ames returned to work after giving birth, she had already been plagued by supervisors who “suggested [she] might have to cut her maternity leave short because the office was ‘too busy,’ derided her for personal decisions about her pregnancy, and warned that taking additional unpaid leave after medical complications with her pregnancy might raise ‘red flags’ down the road,” according to Think Progress.

Now, after attempting to get access to a room to pump milk for her baby, she was informed that she would have to wait three days for the paperwork to be processed so she could be allowed in. Ames argued that she couldn’t wait three days, that it was taking too long for a “wellness room” to vacate, and that she worried that pumping in such a room could expose her milk to germs.

In response, her department head told her, “You know, I think it’s best that you go home to be with your babies,” and gave her a pen and paper in order to write a resignation letter, according to Ames’s legal complaint.

A federal appeals panel has rejected Ames’ discrimination suit, saying that Ames did not allow the company enough opportunity to make accommodations for her, and stating that the workplace did not force her into quitting her job. How telling someone to go home to her babies and refusing her a lactation room isn’t creating a hostile work environment is unfathomable.

As any person who has ever given birth knows, lactation is more than just feeding a child; it’s a physical issue that, without release, not only harms a person’s milk supply in the long run, but causes extreme pain due to engorgement. It also is a bodily function that a person has very little physical control over. A variety of factors can instigate let down, making a breast begin leaking milk, including the sound of crying, a picture of a baby or even thinking about your child. Leaking and engorged breasts aren’t just physically uncomfortable, but can lead to clogged ducts and infections, and can be humiliating when clothing becomes soaked.

The three GOP nominated male judges who weighed in on the case may not have seen an issue, but more and more states are. That’s why so many cities and states are passing legislation to ensure pregnant people and new mothers are protected by this type of discrimination. Although the language of the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act focuses predominately on accommodations and protections for those who are pregnant, it also provides protections for those who have just given birth, forcing companies to make reasonable accommodations surrounding lactation rooms and lighter duty jobs after complicated pregnancies, without putting their employment in jeopardy.

The United States has huge, huge strides to make in order to come anywhere close to the support for new mothers returning to work that are taken for granted in countries like Canada or Sweden. At the very least, however, we should be able to return to work without risking either the health of our children, our own health or our jobs. Pregnant Worker Fairness Acts are a small but meaningful step in the right direction, and hopefully more states will step up to the plate.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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72 comments

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10:35PM PDT on Mar 26, 2014

Sharon T., my guess would be they see women and children as chattel to be treated with contempt.

Exactly how does this show respect or caring for the much lip serviced family values the GOP babble on about when pimping their manure for votes? At the very least they should support breast feeding as their fellow forward thinking cave men didn't have a problem with it. Vile little little men.

10:32PM PDT on Mar 26, 2014

Thanks for sharing

10:20AM PDT on Mar 25, 2014

"Family-friendly" attitude, my BUTT! This whole COUNTRY needs to get its collective head out of its butt and realize that working moms are a vital part of our country too, and breastmilk is the best thing that a woman can feed her baby! Therefore, provisions need to be made for nursing moms, including pumping rooms and adequate milk storage!

Our attitude towards women's and family rights is reprehensible.

4:55AM PDT on Mar 23, 2014

Thank you.

9:06AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

Pro-lifers are just pro-birth!

3:00AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

I agree with much of what James C had to say as well as Alorha B when she said: "...surprise, surprise a 3 judge panel (and yes, all senior white males with very 'Christian' right wing mind sets) denied her right to appeal stating that 3 days waiting & filing of required paperwork for use of a lactation room (that was already in place!)"

Some men still think that working women who are pregnant or return to work after pregnancy have to always be at home and away from a place of business. For some, the 21st Century remains in the distant future. Of course, if pregnancy was something that men experienced, such provisions would have been made long ago. Women comprise half the population.

3:00AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

Diana S stated that: "Company profits are finite. To pay for accommodations for one or two employees is going to impact every other employee who doesn't need the accommodation! That is just not fair!!!"

Yet, we do have provisions in place in many jurisdictions to provide ramps, etc., for the disabled. Why is it such a problem for working mothers to be treated with respect?

2:59AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

Agreed, Johan M as Swedish laws are much more flexible than what exists in the U.S. when it comes to paid parental leave.

"The U.S. has one of the poorest support systems for pregnant women and new mothers in the world. The Canadian system, on the other hand, provides at least a partial ongoing income for almost a year to give families time to adjust to the new addition, as well as a guarantee of re-employment after a lengthy leave.

2:59AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

The Canadian government mandates both a leave and a benefits component, the latter being administered by provincial employment insurance plans. Depending on the length of employment history and the hours worked, new mothers can take between 17 and 52 weeks of leave from their jobs. Their employers are required to accept the employees back into their jobs, or the equivalent, at the end of the mandated leave at the same rate of pay with the same employment benefits."

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/career-advice/maternity-leave-basics-canada-vs-the-us/article4197679/

2:59AM PDT on Mar 22, 2014

Brainbooks V pontificates: "And - once again - we hear one side in a case and - once again - we find a sexistic remark about the male judges"

Yes, male judges have always been so hard done by in society haven't they, especially the sexism they have been forced to endure. It appears that the only side that some wish to hear is the male Entitlement side. It is unfortunate that every male did not experience at least one pregnancy to give him a clue as to what is involved.


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