Mothers have rights. When a breastfeeding mother takes a job with a company, she has the right to a safe, clean place to pump milk to feed her baby. She has the right to take a break when she needs it. And her rights merit her more than just access to a public bathroom for twenty minutes.
A local mom, Sarah*, working at a gas station knew her rights. She came to a Facebook group for mothers seeking advice after being basically fired because of her need to pump. Obviously, many moms came alongside to support her to seek legal counsel and alert the media – this should not go unpunished.
Sarah told us that her employer told her that she could only pump once per shift and that the only place that she could pump was the bathroom. In the comments she mentioned that her employer said that if she had known that Sarah was breastfeeding she would not have been hired in the first place.
Now, I got pretty fired up about this. I am a nursing mom too and I hate to see moms get taken advantage of – especially by big companies. Mothers are people with real needs. They deserve better than a bathroom, and so do their babies.
I decided to give this gas station a call. I laid out a list of questions ready to corner the corrupt person who had made this woman suffer. Sarah deserved some justice, and I was going to do what I could to help.
After getting the manager on the line I told her that I had heard one of her employees was recently fired due to her pumping needs and flat out asked if this was true. I was very ready to hear some ridiculous defense, so when the manager told me this was not true I was not terribly shocked.
What did surprise me was pretty much the rest of the story.
First off, the employer did not know that this mother would be needing to pump while on the job until the middle of her first shift. The employer was caught off guard, but scrambled to find a place to meet this mother’s needs. Sarah was given the office to pump her milk.
This is where I began to see the original story unravel.
Between this initial pumping session in the office to the date of the post, the manager said that this employee had been late twice and had refused to serve a customer. For me, that would be grounds for dismissal by itself, but I digress.
The big skirmish happened when someone needed to get into the office during one of her pumping sessions. Sarah was asked to move to the bathroom to finish pumping. After stating that legally she could not be required to use a restroom as a place to pump, the manager sought out the general manager to discuss what other options they had at their disposal. Upon returning to the office, Sarah was packing up her things and putting on her coat to leave.
Her manager said that Sarah is actually still scheduled to work tomorrow and that she never fired her even after she walked out.
It’s funny how little details get left out when you need someone to support your choices. Things could have easily gotten out of hand and a decent business could have had its name dragged through the mud. Honestly, I almost didn’t call. I almost didn’t even ask for the other side of the story because I was certain they were in the wrong, but I am glad I did.
While mothers have rights, and I fully support them, what about the employer? The manager said that had she known that Sarah would need a place to pump she would have started her a week later so she could make accommodations for her needs.
Employers cannot legally ask if you have children or other question that may tip them off to the fact that you may have special requests. They also cannot read minds. If you are going to start a new job and you will be requiring a clean place to pump, it is only fair that your employer knows this ahead of time. How can they be legally required to make accommodations for something they have no knowledge of? Why first mention this need in the middle of a lunch hour rush?
Listen, I am all for standing up for your rights, moms in the workplace, and a clean environment to produce life-giving milk for your baby. Really, I am. The thing is, maybe if every mom stopped to think about how these things affect their employer, there just might be less stories like this posted on Facebook.