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Making space: How employers are complying with the PUMP Act, one year later

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President Joe Biden signed the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act in December 2022. While some provisions were delayed — employers of certain rail carrier and motorcoach employees have three years to comply, for example — the legislation expanded the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to afford most workers the right to “reasonable break time and a private place to pump breast milk for their nursing child.” 

Likewise, workers are entitled to a nonbathroom space to pump, which is “shielded from view” and free from the intrusion of others.

But since the PUMP Act took effect, many employers have run afoul of the law. In October 2023, a Dollar General worker filed a lawsuit against her manager for allegedly being forced to pump in an unlocked stockroom or hot car. The next month, a Minnesotan mother filed a lawsuit against Sun Country Airlines, alleging that she was forced to pump in a main room or backroom, drawing the inappropriate looks of a co-worker.

At the top of the year, a plaintiff filed a class-action suit against a Maryland Ulta Beauty location, which allegedly forced a worker to pump in her car. In February, too, a worker alleged that her McDonald’s supervisor did not give her enough time to pump — when it gave her a break at all. Her only spaces were a stockroom corner or the women’s bathroom.

“Too often, women are forced to use poor accommodations far from their office area that do not have proper setup. This can compromise their health and well-being,” Whitney Austin Gray, senior vice president of research for the International WELL Building Institute, told HR Dive via email. Gray researches best practices for building design and operations, and organizational policies centering public health.

Especially as employers craft return-to-office policies, business leaders are looking to make workplaces more comfortable and accommodating. They’re working to put employee needs — their physical, mental and emotional health — “front and center,” Gray said. This is particularly important for breastfeeding employees. 

Making space for nursing parents

While breastfeeding parents at some workplaces are relegated to stock rooms and cars, other in-person worksites have lactation rooms that go above and beyond a mother’s needs. For example, Kate Kiefer Lee, chief communications officer at Intuit MailChimp, illustrated the comfort her colleagues find in the Atlanta office’s lactation spaces. 

“One of our communications managers just came back from parental leave and had to go on a work trip, and was commenting on the pumping room that Mailchimp has. It was so much more comfortable and convenient for her than her hotel room was,” Kiefer Lee said. “Even though there’s a bed and it’s a comfy space, it’s not really set up with the seats and the supplies.”

The comms officer explained that her workplace had “great” pumping rooms before, but the new office was intentionally designed to support different kinds of working parents. The redesign includes 10 lactation rooms across the workspace. “One on every floor — there are even two on a couple of floors,” she said, adding that the rooms are quiet and private. 

A shot of a lactation room at Mailchimp’s Atlanta office.

Courtesy of Mailchimp

 

Part of the reason Mailchimp has so many pumping rooms, Kiefer Lee said, is that pumping on a schedule can be critical for new parents.

“I have three kids. My youngest is two and we had a lot of eating challenges with my kids. Pumping was really hard — it was hard physically and it was hard emotionally,” she said. 

Kiefer Lee had low milk supply, causing the need to pump on a schedule and at frequent intervals. She recalled one day when she went to work and there wasn’t enough space available for her to pump. 

“That was a real problem for me,” she recalled. Now, she said, she and her co-workers are afforded lots of space, with a “comfortable chair” and sanitation supplies in each room. 

“Sometimes people have to carry a giant pump to work and then multiple sets of pump parts, if you can’t sanitize them at the office,” Kiefer Lee continued. “If you’re having to pump multiple times a day […] it’s just a big load to carry.”

Easing the burden of pumping

Several months ago, Frontier Airlines settled a lawsuit in which plaintiffs alleged they were disciplined for pumping, refused ground assignment during their pregnancy and banned from pumping during flights. As part of the settlement, Frontier will adopt new lactation policies, and establish and update a list of lactation facilities available in airports. 

In another case, Labcorp revamped its lactation policy and posted it for employees after a Department of Labor investigation.

Still, Kiefer Lee said, “The baseline is low.” 

She added, “Making it really easy and really comfortable for people to pump at work is just one of the ways employers can help employees achieve that work-life balance, whatever that looks like for them.” Doing so can prevent talent from “pitting work and home against each other, which happens so much these days,” she said.

Jessica Cooper, chief product officer at the International WELL Building Institute and her daughter, Maia, enjoy the setup designated as a Lactation Room at the WELL Conference 2024 in Long Beach, CA.

Courtesy of the International WELL Building Institute

 

So how does an HR professional, people officer or even office manager advocate for a PUMP Act-compliant worksite?

In the construction industry, a partnership between an industry group and a labor union sets an example. After talking with lactating workers, one regional exec advanced the idea of lactation pods, which she had seen in an airport. Funding from the groups brought outdoor lactation pods to construction sites in Washington state. 

Not only do the weatherproof pods have a sink, sanitation supplies, electricity, a refrigerator, air conditioning and wi-fi, but they are also portable — a major bonus for construction work.

New parents are a “significant segment of the global labor force,” Gray said, highlighting that postpartum care is crucial to the health of both breastfeeding parents and their babies.

Nursing parents “need a safe, private space with essential amenities” to breastfeed or pump, Gray said, outlining a gold standard for supportive breastfeeding programs:

  • Schedules that provide time for pumping or breastfeeding
  • Lactation counseling and travel accommodations for nursing parents
  • Lactation rooms that are comfortable, calm and private  
  • Design that promotes “thermal and acoustic comfort” for nursing parents

IWBI standards to supporting nursing parents demand more at least one room that: 

  • Measures at least 7 feet by 7 feet  
  • Has a work surface and comfortable chair
  • Has two electrical outlets
  • Has a user-operated lock with an occupancy indicator  
  • Has a reservation system that promotes privacy (for example, uses a numbering system instead of worker names) 
  • Has proximity to a sink and faucet, and a paper towel and soap dispenser (not required inside a lactation room but may not be located in a bathroom)
  • Has a refrigerator with dedicated, sufficient space to store milk
  • Has a dedicated microwave to sterilize pump equipment
  • Has dedicated storage space for pumping supplies
  • Minimizes sound, provides ambient lighting and thermal comfort

Providing resources like bottle brushes and snacks can go a long way, Kiefer Lee said, contributing to a peaceful environment for workers while “they’re doing something that may be hard for them or emotionally stressful.”

It is also best practice to have more than one lactation room, so that it’s available in a “quantity that meets current and anticipated demand,” Gray said.

Beyond the physical space

Kiefer Lee highlighted the use of Medela hospital-grade pumps at Mailchimp’s worksite. Some nice-to-haves recommended by Gray included cooling supplies, like ice packs to transport milk from work to home.

Another shot of a lactation room at Mailchimp’s Atlanta office.

Courtesy of Mailchimp

 

Providing lactation rooms can be just one piece of the puzzle. Gray brought up a 2020 provision in the WELL Building Standard to further support new mothers at work

  • Paid pumping or nursing breaks of at least 20 minutes, at least every three hours.
  • Coverage of at least 50% of a portable breast pump, or hospital-grade electric pump for the lactation room.
  • Coverage of at least 50% of postpartum lactation counseling, including back-to-work lactation counseling. 

Both advocates of breastfeeding emphasized the importance of employers going beyond pure compliance.

“Parents ought to be able to make feeding decisions for their baby based on what’s best for their family and not what’s accommodated by their employer — or even what’s required by the law,” Kiefer Lee said.

“Supporting breastfeeding in the workplace is more than policy changes. It requires a safe and accessible location for new mothers,” Gray said.

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