Public education employees planning a family can rely on a number of legal protections to help them try to balance their work and their personal life. The Family Medical Leave Act provides protected leave for medical complications prior to birth of a child and for bonding and care of a child after the birth. The Affordable Care Act allows some nursing mothers to have protected time to express milk to support the health of their newborn children. However, this latter protection only applied to a specific subset of public education employees before a recent change to Missouri law greatly expanded the group that can take advantage of time to express milk or breastfeed a child.
Hourly employee protection
The passage of the Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as “Obamacare,” created a change to the Fair Labor Standards Act so that some people could have a guarantee of break time to express milk. The modification allowed employees who were “non-exempt” under the FLSA, generally employees who are hourly, to have reasonable break time to express milk while at work. Employers had to create a specific space, which was not a bathroom, that was private and free from intrusion where the employee could express milk. These protections had to last for at least a year after the birth of the child.
Missouri’s new law
Missouri Statute 160.995, which went into effect Aug. 28 of this year, expands the protections for lactating mothers to include both teachers and students. The statute requires districts to create policies that provide a location and at least three opportunities during the school day for teachers and students to express milk or breastfeed a child. Expanding on the requirements of the FLSA, the space now must be in close proximity to running water, include ventilation and a door that can be locked, have a work surface and a chair, and contain conveniently placed electrical outlets. These guarantees ensure not only that the individual has privacy but also the ability to remain productive if she so chooses.
Districts must have the new policy in place by July 1, 2022, but they can adopt this policy at any time. Missouri NEA offers a template of a policy that members can use to advocate for providing these protections sooner. MNEA’s draft policy on lactation rights for teachers and students at www.mnea.org/lactation-policy. The policy begins by laying out the right of teachers and students to express milk or breastfeed during the school day and then has a section explaining the requirements for the dedicated area for expressing milk or breastfeeding. The template includes duties of the district, such as maintaining cleanliness and privacy of the lactation space, and the teacher or student, such as providing sufficient notice of a need for time to express milk.
Although the policy includes the basic requirements of the law, there are a variety of ways MNEA members can advocate to expand the protections of the statute:
- Both the Missouri statute and the FLSA require providing the lactation breaks for at least a year, but many nursing mothers prefer to express milk for a longer duration, which means local organizations may want to advocate for protection that lasts longer than just one year.
- Teachers may find it difficult to find three breaks in their day, so the local may decide to advocate for sufficient duty-free time and staffing—so that nursing mothers can have coverage for their classroom when needing to express milk or breastfeed.
- For employees covered by the FLSA, time to express milk may be non-compensated. Members of ESP local organizations or wall-to-wall organizations may choose to push for compensation for all time required for expressing milk.
- Finally, the American Rescue Plan is providing additional funding for districts that could be used to appropriately stock lactation rooms and potentially to explore purchasing a commercial pumping machine—so that employees do not have to purchase personal pumping machines.
This law would not have passed without the tireless work of MNEA members and local leaders. Members, with support from the MNEA Government Relations team, met with elected officials and testified before the Missouri legislature for these important changes. Many of these local leaders were present and received recognition when the bill was signed by Gov. Mike Parson.
By Vincenzo Iuppa, MNEA associate legal counsel
Something Better, fall 2021