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Most employees alleging breastfeeding discrimination lose jobs

It's no secret that some employers in California and elsewhere across the country fail to provide adequate accommodations for breastfeeding. When this happens, nursing employees often face potential health risks and other challenges. According to a new study focusing on this topic, two-thirds of breastfeeding discrimination cases over the past decade resulted in employees alleging this type of discrimination being terminated.

Breastfeeding is a type of employment discrimination that can involve many different issues. For example, some employers may deny break requests for nursing employees when they are leaking milk or experiencing pain. Discrimination of this nature may also involve not providing privacy so that nursing workers can pump breast milk, co-worker comments on breasts, or firing employees who ask for breaks to breastfeed. Legally, employers are supposed to provide sufficient breaks for pumping, a clean place to do this and temporary job reassignment when necessary. Discriminatory consequences sometimes result in nursing mothers weaning earlier than what's normally recommended. There's also the possibility of infections or a diminished milk supply.

Researchers further noted that three-quarters of workers evaluated also faced economic penalties such as being given unpaid breaks or having their hours reduced. The study also found that breastfeeding discrimination is more of a problem for women working in traditionally male-dominated industries. Even though 16 percent of women work in such industries, more than 40 percent of breastfeeding-related discrimination claims involve females working in male-dominated occupations. Researchers also note that this type of discrimination is linked to other types of workplace discrimination against mothers, such as skepticism about an ability to perform job duties.

The study's authors are urging legislators to make discrimination laws related to breastfeeding more universal and encompassing than they are now. In the meantime, an attorney may be able to take steps to put together a case if a woman's employee rights have been clearly violated when attempting to breastfeed on the job. This process might involve talking to co-workers who witnessed unfair practices or checking for prior instances of discrimination against female employees related to nursing or other issues.

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