World Breastfeeding Week: Allow moms to breastfeed at work: ILO

Allow moms to breastfeed at work: ILO

Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston recently decided that a mother can be fired for wanting to pump breast milk at work, claiming that lactation is in no way related to “Pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” This case came about after Donnicia Venters gave birth and was ultimately fired from her job at Houston Funding after asking to use the bathroom to pump milk, although the company claims they fired Venters for abandonment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a complaint on behalf of Venters against Houston Funding, noting that the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal to discriminate against a woman “Because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.” Not that the suit helped. In fact, the case didn’t even make it to court.

Judge Hughes dismissed the lawsuit and wrote in the opinion, “Firing someone because of lactation or breast-pumping is not sex discrimination.” Judge Hughes goes on to say that Venters, “Gave birth on December 11, 2008. After that day, she was no longer pregnant and her pregnancy-related conditions ended.” Thus, the Judge wrote, “Even if Venters’s claims are true, the law does not punish lactation discrimination.

“Well… score one for shady companies. Score zero for babies and mamas.”

Should breastfeeding be covered by sex discrimination laws?

World Breastfeeding Week (Aug 1-7) is celebrated in more than 170 countries to encourage the practice and improve the health of babies. Marking the occasion, the ILO highlights the importance of allowing breastfeeding at the workplace.

“Employers who give mothers the time to breastfeed … benefit a higher rate of return to work and enhanced employee morale.” Manuela Tomei

GENEVA (ILO News) – Allowing breastfeeding at work is good for mothers and their infants, and it’s good for employers, the ILO said.

“The right to continue breastfeeding – upon return to work from maternity leave – is important for the health of the mother and especially for that of her child,” said Manuela Tomei, who heads the ILO Labour Protection Department.

Breastfeeding is the best way to provide newborns with the nutrients they need, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is six months-old, and continued breastfeeding with the addition of complementary foods for up to two years.

“Employers who give mothers the time to breastfeed, and designate a place where they can do so in hygienic conditions, benefit in terms of increased productivity as a result of lower parental absence on account of improved child health, a higher rate of return to work and enhanced employee morale,” Tomei said.

A report published by the ILO in 2010, titled “Maternity at Work: A review of national legislation” says that legislation in at least 92 countries provides for breastfeeding breaks, in addition to regular breaks, for nursing mothers. The time allowed is often at least one hour, usually divided into two breaks of 30 minutes each.

But many mothers still have to choose between either returning to work and giving up breastfeeding or facing the risk of losing their job.

To date, 25 countries have ratified the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention (No. 183) which calls, among others, for at least one breastfeeding break a day or a reduction of working hours to allow for breastfeeding.

Workplace support for mothers who are breastfeeding has been a basic provision of maternity protection since the first Maternity Protection Convention (No. 3) in 1919.

The convention, adopted at the ILO’s annual conference in 2000, is legally binding for the countries that ratified it. The ILO also adopted a recommendation saying that where possible facilities for nursing should be made available at or near the workplace.

“A woman shall be provided with the right to one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed her child.” ILO Convention, 2000 (No. 183) Article 10(1)

“The period during which nursing breaks or the reduction of daily hours of work are allowed, their number, the duration of nursing breaks and the procedures for the reduction of daily hours of work shall be determined by national law and practice. These breaks or the reduction of daily hours of work shall be counted as working time and remunerated accordingly.” ILO Convention, 2000 (No. 183) Article 10(2)

“Where practicable and with the agreement of the employer and the woman concerned, it should be possible to combine the time allotted for daily nursing breaks to allow a reduction of hours of work at the beginning or at the end of the working day.” ILO Recommendation, 2000 (No. 191) Paragraph 8

“Where practicable, provision should be made for the establishment of facilities for nursing under adequate hygienic conditions at or near the workplace.” ILO Recommendation, 2000 (No. 191) Paragraph 9

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