Pennsylvania women may need to choose between breastfeeding, job

Angelina Spaeder had a choice to make.

“I definitely wanted to give him the best that I could,” Spaeder said as she held her infant son Demarco.

Spaeder’s doctor strongly recommended breastfeeding, citing health benefits. Keeping her milk supply going would mean pumping at work.

“I worked at a daycare, so I thought they would definitely support breastfeeding,” Spaeder said.

Spaeder says when she asked to split up her existing unpaid break time to pump, the daycare’s owner said no.

“It was kind of like a slap in the face,” Spaeder said. “Don’t people follow doctors’ orders on any other matter? So why is this an issue?”

What does the law really say?

Spaeder says her boss pointed to the Affordable Care Act. Although it requires many employers to allow hourly employees unpaid break time to pump breast milk, it has an exception for businesses that have fewer than 50 employees and can show “undue hardship.”

“You’re basically telling me that I can’t feed my child,” Spaeder said.

Data from the National Conference of State Legislatures shows 28 states and Washington, D.C. have their own laws protecting moms in the workplace who breastfeed. Pennsylvania does not.

Moms in “The City of Brotherly Love” 

The push for statewide breast milk pumping protections in the workplace starts in Philadelphia.

“I was surprised,” Councilman David Oh said about the moment he learned federal workplace pumping regulations did not apply to all moms. “How could this thing that only women do not be a basis for discrimination?”

Oh is behind a 2014 city ordinance requiring all Philadelphia businesses to provide space and unpaid breaks for employees to pump. Employers who don’t comply can be reported to Philadelphia’s Human Relations Commission. After an investigation, if the business is at fault, it may need to pay the employee’s attorney fees, compensatory damages, and punitive damages up to $2,000 per violation. In severe cases, there’s a possibility of spending 90 days in jail.

There is an exception for businesses that can prove undue hardship. Oh says while workplaces that have a refrigerator and rooms with doors that close won’t likely fit into that category, someone running a fruit stand on the side of the road would have a case for not being able to make accommodations.

From city to state

Now, there’s talk of reintroducing statewide legislation that would be similar to the setup in Philadelphia (2015’s House Bills 1100 and 1176).

“People were fine with kids getting their fingers chopped off or stuck in chimneys at one point in time,” Oh said. “Now we have laws so that doesn’t happen anymore.”

Those who know Oh’s political affiliation might be surprised to hear him talk about adding regulations to businesses.

“I’m quite frankly a Republican,” Oh said. “I’m not for over-regulation.”

But Oh says he sees this ordinance as pro-business.

“When it comes to ensuring that we have the best jobs, the best opportunities for the citizens of the United States of America, we are going to have to make certain adjustments if the society is not adjusting itself, because what we are used to may be far behind the times compared to those folks who are competing with us,” Oh said.

“An individual who is bright, who is energetic, who is contributing to a corporation … why would you let her go?” Oh asked.

“Be nice to her,” he added. “Let’s bring her back. Let’s accommodate her in every possible way because we are competing at the highest levels. And so, I think that is the right way of thinking.”

Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC President and CEO Dave Black agrees with that point, but he says it’s the exact reason Pennsylvania doesn’t need workplace breast milk pumping regulations.

The other side of the story

“Sooner or later, market conditions are going to drive them into it,” Black said, referring to local employers making pumping accommodations.

Black takes the position that it’s good business to support breastfeeding moms in the workplace, but he’s wary of putting another business mandate on the books.

“We have a tendency today – we’re gonna fix everything by legislation. We’re going to create a law and it’s going to fix everything,'” Black said. “To impose a blanket piece of legislation on all small businesses of all sizes is probably the wrong approach.”

He’s worried about the business owners who say they want to accommodate breastfeeding moms but can’t.

“It could be the physical layout of the business, the type of business it is, the clientele of the business,” Black said. “You can’t regulate everything. And I think most small business owners would do everything in their power to accommodate the needs of their employees, particularly if they’re good employees.”

Black says there’s also an economic factor tied to added business regulations.

“Running a small business is a day-to-day if not hour-to-hour challenge,” Black said, “and to add another rule, another regulation to something the business owner would like to accommodate if they can, sometimes it drives up the cost of goods or services being provided by the business. Sometimes, they’re so onerous that they could put a business out of business.”

In 2015, a representative from the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry testified in a public hearing about then-House Bills 1100 and 1176. The testimony raised questions and concerns about the possibility of increased litigation against business owners, lack of time limits on breast milk pumping accommodations, and ambiguity as to whether managers could stop employees from taking breaks that are longer than necessary.

Black says he would like to explore ways to encourage workplace breastfeeding accommodations without imposing legislation.

“I think the discussion about this is a good thing,” Black said. “I think it’s going to make more businesses stop and think well, maybe there is something I can do to accommodate pumping in my place of business here.”

Is there a return on investment?

Maternity Care Coalition Director of Breastfeeding Services Katja Pigur works with employers to make breastfeeding accommodations. She says in her experience, businesses owners anticipate a greater cost than they actually incur.

“You know, you don’t have to have a private, designated room that’s only for that,” Pigur said, giving existing conference rooms, offices, and break rooms as examples of accommodations that would work. “There’s a lot of ways you can work around. You have to be a little creative, but you actually can do it.”

Pigur says there is a return on the investment, pointing to a study from The Journal of Pediatrics that says, “the United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations.”

The study goes on to say that money could be recouped if 80 to 90 percent of women exclusively breastfed for as little as four months and if 90 percent of women would breastfeed some times until six months.

Pigur says her main interest in breastfeeding is its role in driving down the U.S. infant mortality rate, which the World Health Organization says is much higher than other developed countries.

“Why would you be against health benefits a baby can have?” Pigur asked. “I think it’s all about the children. It’s a public health issue.”

Pigur cited other reports from the American Public Health Association that say breastfeeding increases female employee productivity and results in fewer sick days for babies and their moms.

“They are happy they can come back, make it work, and they’re grateful for that,” Pigur said. “And they make sure their work is done because they don’t want it to turn against them either.”

Pigur says she’s worried that without support of the law, breastfeeding accommodations become “a nice thing to do” and not a reality. She wants state legislation to fill federal gaps, saying the Affordable Care Act’s breast milk pumping protections don’t apply to salaried employees and do not spell out enforcement provisions. But she also wants a conversation.

“I always want the ones that have concerns,” Pigur said. “I want them at the table and tell me, what are your concerns. And then we can figure things out.”

Back to mom

Angelina Spaeder no longer works at the daycare that would not allow her to take breaks to pump breast milk. She was able to find work elsewhere, but she says she’s worried about women who aren’t able to afford a gap in employment and need to keep breastfeeding.

“You wouldn’t think that all of this would come about just by me fighting for what I thought was right,” Spaeder said.

“But he’s healthy,” Spaeder added, kissing her son. “That’s what I’m proud of is making him healthy.”

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