Is Your Workplace Mother Friendly? The Answer May Surprise You!

November 17, 2000

The Texas legislature has recognized a mother's responsibility to both her job and her child when she returns to work and the fact that a woman's choice to breast-feed benefits the family, the employer, and society. Unknown to most mothers, not to mention many employers and human resource professionals, the Lone Star State has enacted a mother-friendly law. You are probably thinking that we Texans were already mother-friendly, but it took an act of legislation to make it so.

The Texas legislature has conferred upon mothers the right to breast-feed their babies in any location in which the mother is authorized to be. This relatively new breast-feeding law also provides that a business may use the designation "mother-friendly" in its promotional materials if the business develops a policy supporting the practice of worksite breast-feeding that addresses the following:

  • Work scheduling flexibility, including scheduling breaks and work patterns to provide time for expression of milk;
  • The provision of accessible locations allowing privacy for the expression of milk;
  • Nearby access to a clean, safe water source and a sink for washing hands and rinsing out any needed breast-pumping equipment; and
  • Access to hygienic storage alternatives in the workplace for the mother's breast milk.

In addition, the business must submit its breast-feeding policy to the Texas Department of Health and Safety.

On the subject of motherhood, employers should always be mindful of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 ("PDA") which prohibits all forms of discrimination in employment on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Did you know that an employer could be liable for sex discrimination if it forces a pregnant employee to go on leave of absence before she is unable to perform her job (at least to the same level as other employees with medical conditions); denies child care leave after pregnancy where similar leaves have been granted to employees for non-medical, personal reasons; or establishes arbitrary rules requiring pregnant employees on leave to remain on leave for a pre-determined period of time. These are just a few examples of common employment practices that can subject an employer to liability for sex discrimination. The PDA also protects women who are trying to become pregnant. In fact, a district court in Illinois held that the PDA covers infertility treatment as a pregnancy-related condition.

However, in what appears to be contrary to these so-called mother friendly laws, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that employers may not bar women from jobs on the basis that the job may be hazardous to yet unborn (or not yet conceived) children. What is important to remember is that the PDA requires only that pregnancy-related conditions be treated the same as other similarly limiting, but non-pregnancy-related conditions.

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