Newly Introduced Bill Would Further Strengthen The Right to Pump At Work

Supermajority Education Fund

January 16, 2020

A new bipartisan bill aims to tighten the laws protecting breastfeeding employees’ right to pump at work. The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act was introduced in the Senate this month by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and then in the House this week by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). The bill would close loopholes in existing legislation that exclude many white-collar workers from a federally protected right to pump. 

“No American worker should have to choose between her job and breastfeeding her baby,” said Sen. Merkley in a statement. “Ensuring that new mothers returning to the workplace have the option to continue breastfeeding is good for business and good for families.”

Since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, hourly workers have been covered by the “nursing mothers” provisions of that law. Supervisors and other white-collar professionals who do not qualify for overtime, however, have not been covered due to a loophole. According to a document on the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee website, break time regulations for nursing parents in the Fair Labor Standards Act were included in a section that only regulated minimum wage and overtime standards.

Many employers have also been slow to make proper accommodations for their employees since this law was passed. A 2019 HuffPost investigation detailed how employers across the country have failed to provide clean, sanitary, and private spaces for nursing parents to pump or adequate break time to do so. HuffPost‘s reporting also found that investigations conducted by the Department of Labor found that nearly 70 percent of the employers examined violated the law when it came to protecting the rights of nursing parents.

“Millions of nursing mothers are still without a clear right to pump at work,” Maloney said in a statement. “Without these protections, nursing mothers face serious health consequences, including the risk of painful illness and infection, diminished milk supply, or inability to continue breastfeeding.”

If passed, the PUMP Act would strengthen the existing nursing mother laws while also covering all non-salaried workers who need private pumping spaces and break time to express milk. HuffPost reports that the bill would also strengthen the punishments employers who violate the law would face and that nursing parents who fail to get accommodations from their employers would be entitled to damages for the first time.

Advocates for working mothers applauded the new legislation, while also stressing that accommodating nursing parents is a relatively easy thing to do. 

“When a breastfeeding employee returns to work, they need to express (or “pump”) breast milk on a regular schedule,” Cheryl Lebedevitch, the Senior Workplace Program Manager and Policy Analyst at the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, said in a statement to Supermajority News. “Most of the time, break time, and a private space is all they need, yet breastfeeding workers across the nation routinely report that they are unable to access these simple accommodations. For these families, continuing to breastfeed can become difficult or even impossible.”