SC law helps pave the way for federal protections for working moms

Government data shows about 9 million additional workers are now covered under the new federal protections
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 5:51 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 1, 2023 at 11:40 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Protections for working moms who are breastfeeding are now in effect across the U.S., and a 2020 South Carolina state law played a key role in motivating Congress to enact them nationwide.

Prior to that law’s passage, South Carolina enacted comprehensive protections to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace in the 2018 “Pregnancy Accommodations Act.”

But that legislation only applied to employers with at least 15 employees and left out some workers, including many new moms who had returned to their jobs and faced challenges pumping breastmilk at work.

“We’ve heard so many stories about people having to escape to the bathrooms or having to run all the way across an extensive campus at a university, and that’s just not practical,” Ann Warner, CEO of the Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network, said.

It would strike Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, D-Spartanburg, when she would enter restrooms to find breastfeeding mothers making do with the limited space that stalls gave them to pump.

“To me, that was just so degrading, and I said, if I ever get a chance, I’m going to see if I can do something about this,” she said.

So Henderson-Myers pushed for the passage of the “South Carolina Lactation Support Act,” which requires employers make reasonable accommodations to provide space and unpaid break time for employees to pump daily at work.

It crossed the finish line to become state law during the throes of the pandemic in June 2020, after picking up sponsors from both parties and passing the House and Senate without a single vote against it.

That helped move along federal action.

“That did help make a really strong case to Congress that if we can get this done in South Carolina with the kind of bipartisan, unanimous support and in the midst of a global pandemic, Congress should be able to do the same,” Warner said.

The change now in place across the country stems from the “PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act,” with “PUMP” standing for “Providing Urgent Maternal Protections.”

It requires workplaces provide private space that is not a restroom and adequate break time for workers to express breast milk and is now fully in effect nationwide after President Joe Biden signed it into law late last year.

In a statement encouraging Congress to act, the White House said, “No new mother should face unfair treatment in the workplace because their employer refuses to provide them with reasonable break time and private, clean space needed to adequately express breast milk while at work, forcing them to choose between their health and the health of her child, and earning a paycheck. … Without these protections, nursing mothers face serious health consequences, including risk of painful illness and infection, diminished milk supply, or inability to continue breastfeeding.”

Henderson-Myers said this is a win-win for employers and for employees who might have felt uncomfortable or been unable to pump at work without these protections.

“They either abandon breastfeeding their baby, or they decide they’re just going to quit their job,” she said. “… It also affects businesses in that they don’t have to replace that employee and then rehire and retrain.”

Government data shows about 9 million additional workers are now covered under the new federal protections, and the act also allows employees to seek legal recourse if their employer violates the new requirements.