Business owners can now be subjected to new penalties if they don’t comply with new, expanded protections for lactating employees.
Original article here.
The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act), part of the $1.7 trillion government funding legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden in late 2022, technically went into effect immediately after the law was signed — but its enforcement provisions started April 28, 2023.
There was already a provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act that required employers to provide break time for workers who needed to pump breast milk, but that provision only existed for so-called “exempt” workers, or those who were exempted from overtime.
The changes expand the pool of covered workers by millions — although some groups like flight attendants and pilots are excluded.
Experts say many employers are unaware of the changes or the potential penalties.
“It hasn’t been very well publicized. and I think a lot of employers aren’t aware that there has been a change,’ said William Stonehouse III, president and co-founder of Crawford Thomas Recruiting.
Penalties for violating the PUMP Act
Businesses that violate the law can be liable for unpaid minimum or overtime wages, employment reinstatement and payment of wages lost, as well as potential additional damages including economic losses and punitive damages. The PUMP Act does not have any provisions for compensatory or emotional distress damages, but employers could be liable for attorneys’ fees.
Workers can also file a complaint with the Department of Labor, and would be shielded from retaliation by their employer.
Which employers are subject to the PUMP Act
The PUMP Act applies to all businesses with 50 or more employees, as well as businesses with fewer than 50 employees unless the business can show the law causes an undue hardship on the business.
The PUMP Act also requires a private space for workers to pump breast milk that is shielded from view, and it cannot be a bathroom. That could mean a lock on the door and signage outside — although the space does not have to be permanently used for pumping breast milk.
The PUMP Act will be enforced by the Department of Labor along with its enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to Stacy Hickox, an employment law attorney with D.C.-based law firm Kalijarvi Chuzi Newman & Fitch, and complaints can be filed with local DOL offices.
“The break time can still be unpaid for hourly workers if pay is not otherwise required by law or contract. In contrast, salaried workers should receive their full salary even if they take time to express milk during their workday. Workers have these rights for the first year of their baby’s life,” Hickox said.
Stonehouse said the PUMP Act provisions make it possible for workers to file a lawsuit to seek monetary remedies in the event the employer doesn’t comply with the law. The law expanded who was protected to include groups such as nurses and teachers. With working mothers making up about one-third of all employed American women, employers should make sure they are in full compliance, Stonehouse said.
Experts say businesses shouldn’t just comply because they are legally required to but also to help retain valuable workers.
“Getting ahead of the implementation of these laws is a necessity,” Stonehouse said “All your employees notice how you treat their coworkers, so it’s a great way to gain the trust and respect of your entire team by showing you want to make more than reasonable accommodations for all of your staff, when necessary, regardless of government mandates.”
Stephanie Boms, CEO and co-founder of Nessel, which creates corporate lactation stations, said while there is now a legal requirement for many employers to provide pumping accommodations, businesses that embrace the rule can see a positive impact on recruiting, retention and company morale — as well as boost a company culture.
“Business owners need to know that it doesn’t have to be hard or expensive to create proper lactation space,” Boss said. “There are easy solutions that don’t require construction or plumbing but still provide all the support a breastfeeding employee needs, like a sink to wash hands and pump parts and a private refrigerator to safely store breastmilk.”
The PWFA also goes into effect in 2023
The PUMP Act is separate from the portions of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) that was also passed into law as part of the omnibus. The PWFA extends the Americans with Disabilities Act to cover pregnant workers, which means businesses with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees.
The PWFA goes into effect on June 27, 2023. Stonehouse said 30 states already have similar safeguards in place.
“Violations will be enforced by the EEOC which has a reputation for applying stiff penalties for workplace abuse and repeated violations of workers’ rights – up to $300,000 per employee for some companies and situations,” Stonehouse said.
Feds getting aggressive with employers
The PUMP Act and the PWFA are just two of many changes coming down the pipe for employers from the federal government.
The National Labor Relations Board is cracking down on the confidentiality and non-disparagement agreements that have long been standard in severance agreements, but experts say there are some ways employers can adapt. The ruling, which does not apply to supervisory workers, found that a severance agreement for 11 union workers that included broad non-disparagement and confidentiality terms was unlawful because they would interfere with the workers’ rights to organize their workplace.
The Federal Trade Commission in January also proposed a rule broadly banning non-compete and non-solicitation agreements. Agencies across the government are also proposing or finalizing other rules that small-business owners need to be aware of.
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