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Support For The Littlest Mountain Hawks

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Pat Chase, ’74, Director of Facilities Planning, was one of the first women admitted as an undergraduate student at Lehigh. Over the 41 years she has been on campus as a student and an employee, she has seen the role of women in the workforce grow and change. That change has impacted Lehigh in many ways. 

“With my own staff, there’s a different approach to the work day. We all juggle a lot of family commitments and the like,” she said. “It’s nice working in a university environment, where I can offer a level of flexibility to employees so they can get their work done and also feel that they are taking care of what they need to for their families.”

That commitment to promoting a family-friendly workplace is especially important when an employee first becomes a parent. Returning to work after the birth of a child, all employees face balancing career with family, adjusting to new routines, and missing their infants.

For a new mom who is breastfeeding and wishes to continue after returning to work, there’s the added challenge of providing milk for her baby during the work day. To maintain the nursing relationship with her baby, a mom needs to use a portable milk expressing system (called a breast pump for short) to collect and store milk during the day. That milk can then be fed to the baby by his or her daytime caregiver. Most working moms who pump do so until their child reaches his or her first birthday.

Two Basic Needs Now Guaranteed By Federal Law

A nursing mom who pumps at work needs two things: privacy and time. Today, as a result of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the federal health care reform law that began implementation in 2010, working mothers across the nation have guaranteed access to both.

According to the Department of Labor’s website:

The Affordable Care Act  amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to require employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The break time requirement became effective when the Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010.

The work of providing a private space for employees to use a breast pump falls to Pat Chase and her team in Facilities Planning.

“We actually created our first lactation room in 2004, prior to the Affordable Care Act,” Pat recalled. “Several employees in Iacocca Hall who didn’t have private offices asked if there was space in the building that could be used for that purpose.”

Dividing the women’s lounge next to one of the building’s restrooms into a separate space, Pat created a simple but comfortable environment for the nursing mothers in Iacocca Hall. That space remains available for current and future nursing moms.

Break Time For Nursing Mothers

Toni Lee Febbo, Director of HR Services, says the Affordable Care Act allows nonexempt employees to take unpaid breaks away from their desk to express milk for their baby. Exempt employees and faculty members are expected to build their breaks into the work day while still fulfilling their job obligations. The law applies to all employers with 50 or more employees.

If a woman works in an area with limited back-up staff, she must still be permitted time away from her desk to pump. “While we understand that offices are sometimes run by one staff member, this law applies to all of Lehigh,” Toni Lee said. “If anyone finds she doesn’t have the kind of breaks she needs, we will work with her, and, if necessary, her office to make sure she gets what she needs.”

Toni Lee sees this as another way that Lehigh supports families of all kinds. “Our society is based on a notion of family,” she said. “Everyone benefits when we take care of each other.”

One Mother’s Perspective

In addition to Iacocca, there are two more rooms available. One was the result of a request from Amy White, now at the Baker Institute. At the time she asked for the room, Amy was working in the Materials Science department in Whitaker Lab where she lacked a private office.

“I actually made the second request for a space after they passed the health care reform law,” Amy noted recently. “I started with a simple inquiry to Human Resources about the availability of space, and HR was very accommodating. They responded quite quickly, and the space was ready for me with an electrical outlet, a locking door, table, and chair, when I returned from maternity leave.”

“From a practical standpoint, having the lactation room allowed me to continue breastfeeding my son,” Amy said. “But from an emotional standpoint, it also helped me feel connected to him while I was at work. I felt like I was caring for him in a way, even when I was away from him.”

Amy understands that not everyone is comfortable discussing the topic of breastfeeding and expressing milk, so she felt it was important to share her story.

"Some women feel embarrassed to ask for the help and are especially embarrassed about the idea of doing it at work,” she said. “But I want to tell them that I learned that it’s not embarrassing to ask or to do it. It’s really quite natural.”


For More Information

You can read more about the federal laws related to nursing moms in the workplace on the Department of Labor's website.

If you are, or will be, a nursing mom, and you need a space in your building to express breast milk, contact Toni Lee Febbo in HR. You can reach her at extension 83896 or via email at tlf1@lehigh.edu
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Spotlight is published monthly by Human Resources. Please address any comments to Hillary Kwiatek, Spotlight Editor, Human Resources, 428 Brodhead Avenue, send email to hik210@lehigh.edu, or call extension 85165.

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