This past summer, Minnesota amended its nursing mothers statute to ensure greater access to breaks for expressing milk. While taking time to express milk at work was already protected, new mothers have continued to face backlash at work for taking breaks to express milk and for needing a private room in which to do so. The amended law should help clarify mothers’ rights and hopefully minimize some of the negative feedback from employers. Additionally, the new law requires that employers pay their employees while on breaks to express milk. These changes are a step in the right direction for employees.
The History of Workplace Protections for Breastfeeding Mothers
In 1998, Minnesota first passed the nursing mothers statute, guaranteeing “reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child.” Minn. Stat. § 181.939(a). The amendment changes the words “break time” to “break times,” thus recognizing and clarifying that mothers may need to express milk multiple times during the workday and that they are protected in doing so. The legislature also removed the word “unpaid” from the statute, which means that mothers must now be paid if taking a break to express milk. On the other hand, the law limited the scope of its protections for nursing mothers by adding that employers are only required to provide these accommodations for the twelve months following the birth of the child. These amendments take effect at the beginning of 2022.
Continued Room for Improvement
The amendments could have gone further by providing additional clarity on what kind of room/space must be provided to nursing moms. Currently, the law only requires that:
[t]he employer must make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a bathroom or a toilet stall, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public and that includes access to an electrical outlet, where the employee can express her milk in privacy.
Minn. Stat. § 181.939(b). What “reasonable efforts” employers must take remains up for debate; often employees find themselves jockeying to reserve or squeeze into a meeting room between meetings and face eye-rolling and annoying comments from coworkers and superiors. The clarity in the statute could help improve these interactions.
Finally, the legislature could have done away with the provision that exempts employers from having to allow such breaks if they “would unduly disrupt the operations of the employer.” Having mothers in the workforce is vital for our economy; it’s forcing mothers out of the workforce by restricting their ability to express milk that would unduly disrupt operations for employers. Strong protections for working moms benefit Minnesota. It’s good to see the law advancing in that direction.