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Employers Should Keep An Eye on the "Breastfeeding Mother-Friendly Employer Bill"

In our February 2003 flash report, we discussed legislative bills introduced in the 2003 legislative session that would have significant impact on employers. Since distribution of that flash report, a new bill has been introduced and is making a swift journey through the Oregon Senate. In this flash report we cover that bill, and review current Washington law on the subject.

SB 783, informally dubbed the "Breastfeeding Mother-Friendly Employer Bill," proposes a new statute to be added to ORS Chapter 653. SB 783 would require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide unpaid rest breaks for employees who need to breastfeed or express milk, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on an employer's operations. Such breaks could be taken concurrently with normal rest periods, if feasible. The statute would also require the employer to provide a private room or location near the employee's work area, other than a public restroom or toilet stall, to breastfeed or express milk. The statute would further provide that an employer that violates the statute or discriminates or retaliates against an employee because she invokes this statute commits an unlawful employment practice.

Some members of the business community have raised concerns that this bill raises too many questions. For example, what does "reasonable" mean in the context of this bill? Must an employer build or designate a room in the workplace solely for this purpose? What if providing a private room creates an undue hardship for the employer?

A public hearing on the bill was held on March 31, 2003, and the bill may be sent to the Senate floor for a vote in the near future. Given the bill's swift movement, employers should keep an eye on SB 783.

As our Washington employers may know, Washington passed a similar statute in 2001 providing that employers can be certified as "infant friendly" if they implement an approved workplace breastfeeding policy. RCW 43.70. To obtain Department of Health approval and certification under RCW 43.70, the employer's policy must contain at least the following four requirements: (a) flexible work scheduling, including scheduled breaks and work patterns providing time for the mother to express breast milk; (b) a convenient private and sanitary location, other than a restroom, to allow the mother to breastfeed her child or express breast milk; (c) a convenient and sanitary water source for washing hands and rinsing breast-pumping equipment in the private location specified for breastfeeding or expressing the milk; and (d) a convenient and sanitary refrigerator in the workplace for the mother's breast milk.

However, unlike SB 783, the Washington statute does not require employers to meet these criteria or create any penalties for employers who fail to do so.

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