The U.S. Department of Labor will begin a series of events in August to highlight the importance of maternal health and workplace protections for expectant and new mothers as the country marks National Breastfeeding Month.
On Aug. 10, the department’s Wage and Hour Division and Women’s Bureau will present “Working Mothers: What to Expect from Your Employer When You’re Expecting,” a public webinar from 1 to 2:30 p.m. EDT. Attendance is free, but registration is required.
The first in the department’s Maternal Health Series, the event will bring together representatives of the division and the bureau, along with representatives of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who will share and discuss federal protections to prevent discrimination against pregnant workers, provide time off for the birth or adoption of a child, and ensure that working mothers may take breaks to express breast milk and do so in private.
“Federal law forbids employers from discriminating against pregnant women or working mothers,” said Principal Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator Jessica Looman. “Whether women need to take leave for a medical appointment, to bond with their newborn, adopted or foster child, or to express breast milk privately and safely, working mothers have rights under the law. We encourage working women, employers and other stakeholders to know their rights and responsibilities and to seek our assistance if needed.”
In 2020, a study by the Commonwealth Fund of data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources found the U.S. has the highest rate of maternal mortality of any industrialized country. Research also suggests that proper prenatal care and medical management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure could prevent many deaths. CDC data also finds breast-fed babies experience short- and long-term benefits.
“Pregnant and nursing workers should never be forced to choose between their health – or that of their child – and their job,” said Women’s Bureau Director Wendy Chun-Hoon. “By enforcing federal labor standards and ensuring workers know their rights, we help ensure more equitable workplaces for women, including staying connected to their job and vital supports like health insurance during a critical time for their families.”
As part of its efforts, the department has created fact sheets on Birth and Bonding and Job-Protected Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The Maternal Health Series will continue with upcoming events that include state-level webinars on expectant and new mothers’ rights and benefits at the federal and state levels, industry-specific employer compliance events, an event focused on Black maternal health, and another on doulas and midwives.
Learn more about the Wage and Hour Division, including a search tool to use if you think you may be owed back wages collected by the division. Workers can call the Wage and Hour Division confidentially with questions – regardless of their immigration status – and the department can speak with callers in more than 200 languages.
Lisa Smith, SPHR, SCP
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