On Dec. 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (or “PUMP Act“) into law. This new law expands workplace protections for women who are breastfeeding or expressing breast milk, providing legal coverage for some 9 million additional working moms. New Jersey law has recognized pregnant and/or breastfeeding women as a protected class under the Law Against Discrimination since 2018. If you believe that your employer has mistreated you in violation of the law because you were breastfeeding or pumping during the workday, you should talk to a New Jersey breastfeeding discrimination lawyer about what legal options exist for you.
While discrimination based on pregnancy has been a violation of federal law generally since 1978 (when the federal government enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,) many holes in the federal law remained, leaving pregnant workers and working moms with infants vulnerable in a variety of ways, especially when it came to nursing their newborns or expressing breast milk for that baby.
Congress initially passed a bill to protect moms who breastfeed or pump at work in 2010, and President Obama signed it into law. However, because that language got placed in a provision of the federal statutes dealing with overtime compensation, moms who were not entitled to overtime pay were not covered by the 2010 law’s protections. That fraction represented roughly 25% of “working women of childbearing age,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
The PUMP Act closes that loophole, expanding protection to breastfeeding mothers in a variety of fields where they’re not eligible for overtime pay, ranging from teaching to nursing to engineering to transportation work.
The ‘Teeth’ of the PUMP Act Become Effective Later This Month
Of course, simply passing a law that places an obligation on employers often isn’t enough. In order to motivate some employers to follow the law, it is also often necessary to allow harmed workers to bring civil lawsuits against their employers and obtain financial compensation.
The PUMP Act recognizes this and contains enforcement provisions allowing a working mom who’s been the target of illegal practices to bring a federal lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The violations that can allow a working mom to pursue this sort of FLSA claim include an employer’s failure to provide an appropriate area to express milk, failure to provide break time for pumping, and (in some instances) failure to pay the mom for those breaks.
When it comes to the appropriate area requirement, the law provides some specifics. The place the employer designates for a working mom to breastfeed or express milk must “be shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers or the public,” and it cannot be a bathroom.
What the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Says
New Jersey amended the Law Against Discrimination in 2018 to include protections for breastfeeding mothers. New Jersey includes some added protections as compared to the federal law, such as requiring that the mother’s breastfeeding/pumping space be “in close proximity” to her work area.
Like the federal law, there is an enforcement element to New Jersey’s anti-breastfeeding discrimination requirements. This includes a “private right of action” (where the harmed mother sues directly in civil court,) or action by the state Division on Civil Rights.
A 2020 case shows just how badly far short of the legal requirements some workers’ provisions may be. In that case, the DCR took action against an employer in Burlington who assigned as its designated pumping location a utility room. While it’s technically possible for a utility room to meet the minimum mandatory standards, this one allegedly had numerous problems regarding proper privacy.
Allegedly, the door had no lock on it for the first three months and the room contained supplies that coworkers needed frequently throughout the workday. According to the mother, she had to “lean up against the unlocked door in an attempt to ensure privacy” while she pumped, but still sometimes had to deal with colleagues who entered the room to get supplies while she expressed milk. Her manager also allegedly interrupted her pumping, demanding that she “hurry up and finish” due to the presence of waiting customers.
Whether your employer discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, childbirth, or post-childbirth condition like breastfeeding/expressing milk, your employer may have violated the law. When that happens, the knowledgeable New Jersey pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help you seek justice. To find out more, contact us online or at (833) 529-3476 to set up a free and confidential consultation today. Whether you’re in Passaic, Bergen, Morris, Essex, Union, Hudson, Somerset, Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer, Burlington, or Camden County, we’re eager to get to work for you.