Among the top employment issues that companies will need to navigate in 2024 is enforcing laws that have more recently taken effect.
Take the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, for example. The PUMP Act, which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, took effect in December 2022. It provides additional workplace protections for employees who need to express breast milk. I previously detailed its requirements here.
This year, as employers continue to recalibrate their HR compliance to abide by the PUMP Act and other new employment laws, it’s important not to lose the forest for the trees. Existing laws that never deserve short shrift may protect employees at a less granular level.
I’ll give you an example.
Last year, a federal court in North Carolina adjudicated a motion to dismiss a plaintiff’s pre-PUMP Act claims involving a new mom’s gender discrimination claims arising under Title VII, not the FLSA. The plaintiff alleged that following her maternity leave, she told her supervisor that she needed to express (i.e., pump) breast milk for her nursing child. Her supervisor designated the record room as her lactation room.
Problem solved, right?
Well, not so much. Later that month, the plaintiff’s supervisor walked in while she was pumping — despite a warning sign on the door and knowing that this was the plaintiff’s lactation space.
A few months later, the plaintiff found her lactation room locked. Nobody with the keys was in the office. So, she pumped in a nearby room and placed a “do not enter” sign on the door. Nevertheless, a male coworker entered. The plaintiff stated that she was pumping three times before he left.
Later, the plaintiff noticed a camera while changing clothes in her lactation room. The employer’s solution was to cover it with paper, which made the plaintiff uncomfortable. She decreased her room use, decreasing the frequency with which she pumped. Eventually, her milk supply had significantly diminished due to the decreased frequency at which she could pump during the workday.
All of this preceded the PUMP Act. No matter, the plaintiff argued that the defendant violated Title VII by preventing her from providing her child with the benefits of breastfeeding.
The court agreed, concluding that “the [plaintiff’s] complaint bristles with facts that could support a Title VII action for intentional discrimination…The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, under which Plaintiff sues, was a direct response to the Supreme Court’s adoption of a similar line of reasoning in the late 1970s. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against her based on a medical condition related to pregnancy. The PDA forbids as much.”
If something like this goes down in 2024, employers will be on the hook under not one but two federal workplace statutes.