House passes biz-backed bill adding protections for nursing moms

The U.S. Capitol building on Capitol Hill, seen during sunset in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz
  • Bipartisan bill requires employers provide moms time and privacy to nurse
  • White House, Chamber of Commerce have endorsed legislation

(Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill supported by the White House and major business groups that would extend workplace protections for nursing mothers to millions of workers.

The House voted 276-149, with 59 Republicans joining every Democrat in the chamber, to advance the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections to Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act to the Senate.

If the bill clears the Democrat-led Senate, where it also has Republican support, it would require employers with 25 or more employees to provide time and private space for nursing mothers.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to extend those protections to certain workers but left out an estimated 9 million people who are exempt from other FLSA protections including agricultural workers, teachers and airline employees.

The PUMP Act would eliminate those exemptions while also allowing workers to seek back pay and reinstatement if they are fired for requesting breaks to pump milk.

The bill also would require employers to pay workers for time spent on those breaks if they are not completely relieved of their job duties.

The White House Office of Management and Budget last month signaled its support for the bill, saying in a statement that nursing mothers who lack legal protections face serious health consequences such as risk of infection, diminished milk supply and inability to continue breastfeeding.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in a letter to House members said it strongly supported the PUMP Act because it would provide clarity to employers and help avoid litigation. The Chamber, however, requested that airline workers be exempted because of the limited private space available on airplanes.

Advocacy groups praised Friday's vote, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which said in a statement that the law is needed because many employers do not have policies in place to accommodate pregnant and breastfeeding employees.

"Instead, too many workers are penalized, discriminated against, terminated, or left without options when they try to pump breast milk at work," said Vania Leveille, the ACLU's senior legislative counsel.

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at