State officials say things have changed a bit in a recent federal clarification of the rules on a new requirement that employers provide time — and a place — for nursing mothers to express breast milk during work hours. Rachel Scott of the Department of Human Rights says the requirement went into effect as soon as the healthcare reform bill was signed into law in March.
Scott says they initially thought the law only applied to employers with 50 or more employees, but the guidelines recently released say the law applies to all employers — and those with under 50 employees can apply for an “undue hardship” exception. Scott says those seeking an exception will have to prove that compliance would be a problem.
“My understanding is it’s a difficult standard to prove, but it would be based upon the expense or difficulty of making an accommodation based on the nature and size of the business,” Scott explained. Scott says breastfeeding has been show to help reduce childhood obesity and diabetes in children, and that’s why the requirement was instituted. The law requires at least two break periods during the work day for a woman to express breast milk.
And she says it requires the employer to make a “reasonable effort” to provide a place other than a bathroom that would shield the woman from other employees and the public. Scott says it could be as simple as a place where a shower curtain could be put up to block the view. Scott says some businesses my be eligible for a grant to help with the cost.
The Iowa Breastfeeding Coalition has eight 500-dollar grants available for businesses that want to start or maintain their lactation program. The deadline for the grants is August 20th and you can find out more at the coalition’s website at: www.iowabreastfeeding.org.
Scott says Iowa is below the national average for the rate of breastfeeding according to the Centers for Disease Control. She says Iowa ranks 37th nationally for our rates of breastfeeding and she says that is probably because we one of the highest rates of women in the workforce.
Scott says less than half of the women who start breastfeeding stop after six months, while the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control recommend that women breastfeed for at least one year. Iowa Workforce Development says women make up 54% of Iowa workers. The national average rate for breastfeeding is 43.4% compared to Iowa’s 33.2%.