Last week, a bill was introduced in the Utah House titled Workplace Accommodation of Breastfeeding. This is a much needed bill and will require employers to provide a clean, private (and specifically non-bathroom) place for employed mothers to nurse or express their milk during breaks.
Currently, the only legislation in the Utah State Code about breastfeeding are the few lines that protect breastfeeding from being considered lewd, obscene, or indecent exposure (even if nipple is showing).
Why do we need protection for employed mothers? "In 2005, roughly 548,000 Utah women—61.6 percent of those over the age of 16—were participants in the labor market. Nationally, only 59 percent of women are in the labor force." And with the largest birth and fertility (link opens a pdf) rates of any state in the Union, mothers are a significant part of the Utah workforce.
While the bill will "require" employers to provide a place to pump/breastfeed, there are unfortunate exceptions to this. Because there is a belief that this will be too difficult for small businesses to accommodate, the current wording of the bill exempts businesses with less than 15 employees from complying. It also exempts business that aren't open for less than 20 calendar weeks a year. That is an issue because seasonal business such as ski resorts may be exempt. Also, the bill only applies to an employee only "if an employee is breast feeding (sic) a child to whom the employee gave birth." What about adoptive mothers? At the meeting yesterday it was also suggested that a mother might be pumping to release major engorgement and then donating the milk to a bank. Since that's not for her own child, would that situation be exempt also?
This bill is very new and will likely go through many revisions. Watch the LLL of Salt Lake webpage for calls to action. There will be a letter-writing campaign as this bill gains ground in the house and senate. Writing to our representatives about our support for a well-written bill protecting employed mothers will help bring to light how important this is for the families of Utah. The leader yesterday said they'd be very interested in recent stories (within the past 5 years) of women being discouraged to take pumping/nursing breaks and of employers working with mothers to ensure that the breastfeeding relationship is maintained. Because of the small business exemption, if you worked for a small business, mentioning the size of the business in your story can help our state congress know that there is a need for all employers to support breastfeeding. If you want to write up your story now, contact the LLL of Salt Lake and they'll keep in touch with you.
Our society devalues women as mothers and as employees- and often especially mothers as employees. Bills like this will be a wonderful step forward to making sure that women will have the support needed to maintain that relationship while also maintaining their ability to enjoy the benefits of employment.