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OPINION: Hawaii Businesses to Accommodate New Breastfeeding Law

July 11, 2013, 10:29 AM HST
* Updated July 11, 10:32 AM
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With a mound of new laws (288 to be exact) making their way through the capital this year, it’s been a challenge keeping abreast of all the changes.

But down toward the bottom of the pile there lies a little act with the potential to cause a big stir.

Senate Bill 532 mandates “anytime” breastfeeding breaks for new mothers in the workplace.

The bill is intended to provide opportunities for working mothers to express milk for new babies until they are one year of age. Exceptions may be made for businesses with less than 20 employees, if they can prove financial or unreasonable hardship in complying with the new law.

Otherwise, businesses will be expected to provide:

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“Reasonable break time for an employee to express milk… each time the employee has a need to express breast milk; and a location, other than the restroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion…”

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Workplace billboards will get a little more crowded, as employers will now be required to “post a notice in a conspicuous place accessible to employees.”

SB 532 also allows employees who feel their employers have violated their milking rights to bring “a civil action…actual damages, or both within two years after the occurrence of the alleged violation.”

Apart from the threat of lawsuits, SB 532 also provides for a $500 fine for each refusal or inability of an employer to provide for a mothers expressing needs.

The new breast feeding laws apply to mothers of children up to one year of age.

The new breast feeding laws apply to mothers of children up to one year of age.

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The bill is actually a fine-tuning of federal legislation in 2010 that mandated similar requirements, but allowed exceptions for businesses with up to 50 employees.

Given that breastfeeding has been shown to reduce risk of obesity, diabetes, infectious disease, and certain allergies and cancers, it’s safe to say “the more the merrier” when it comes to babies and breast milk.

Of course, the new law could cause challenges in workplace settings where sudden disruptions can hamper workflow, likely interrupting employee meal breaks as workers are forced to fill in for nursing mothers.

But despite the adjustments SB 532 will force onto businesses, it’s still the right thing to do, representing a shift in cultural norms that is decidedly in favor of children’s health.

New mothers should be welcomed and supported at work, both by business owners and their fellow employees. SB 532 should go a long way toward ensuring that happens.

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