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Although nursing mothers have the right, thanks to Obamacare, to take breaks at work to pump milk in a room that's clean and private and not a bathroom, many employers don't follow that law. As a result, women are forced to pump in public restrooms or in employee break rooms that aren't private. They're denied break time, and have to stop breastfeeding altogether as a result. They face retaliation when they try to exercise their rights.
Dave Jamieson reviewed 105 complaints nursing mothers filed with the Labor Department after the passage of Obamacare. Those complaints come despite the facts that many women don't know they have the right to breaks and a place to pump, and that many salaried workers aren't covered by this law, and that it's not exactly possible to file an anonymous complaint when your boss knows which worker recently had a baby. The cases Jamieson reviewed include a McDonald's worker in Grand Island, Nebraska:
Even though she obtained a doctor's note stating she needed to express milk for her child -- at her manager's insistence -- the woman wasn't given access to a private room. The employee break room had no door or curtain to keep people from walking in on her, so she was forced into the restaurant's public bathroom.
The worker filed a complaint with the Labor Department, saying her rights as a nursing mother were being violated. Within days, a manager forbade her from pumping milk anywhere in the restaurant, according to the Labor Department investigator's findings.
The woman was forced to clock out and walk 15 minutes each way to a public library whenever she needed to pump milk. This was worse than inconvenient -- it was financially damaging. The investigator determined that the worker had lost $81.24 due to those trips to the library.
Her manager dropped her hours from 20 to 7.25 for at least one week, a schedule change the investigator deemed an "apparent retaliatory action" in response to the worker's complaints.
A call center worker in California was actually fired when she complained about not getting break time. Both those women got back pay, but it's certain that many facing similar problems—similar violations of their legal rights—are too intimidated to complain. Jamieson notes that "Some women who filed complaints actually abandoned them after realizing their bosses would have to be interviewed by investigators."
This is obviously a problem faced specifically by women who are breastfeeding, but the basic pattern applies to a lot of labor law. In short, the laws protecting workers are often ignored. Retaliation is common against workers who insist on their rights. And the penalties for employers who break the law are too low to be a very effective deterrent.