As a mother of two, being a working parent is definitely rewarding. It's fun. It's adventurous. Unpredictable. Fulfilling. But lets be real. It's also challenging, stressful and crazy. Really crazy ALL the time.
Luckily, Minnesota has one of the best maternity leave laws in the nation. Working parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave upon the birth or adoption of the child. "In 2014, with the Women's Economic Security Act, we went from 6 weeks to 12 weeks," said Jessica Looman, the Deputy Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry. "What we really see in Minnesota is that it's employer driven. Some of the more generous maternity parental leave laws are very much provided by employers in our state."
Diane Gates faced the challenges of returning to work 12 weeks after having her twins. "When you're a new mother, your just 24/7, you're just with your kids and especially since I had twins, it was all on," said Diane. "To go from that and the major gear shift and to come back here [work] and to get my head back into the business and to my responsibilities here for my team, definitely a challenge." Fortunately for her, her workplace of over 20 years, Allianz Life, provides an onsite childcare development center.
Suzanne Dowd Zeller, Chief Human Resources Officer of Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, says the local-based company provides an array of family-friendly benefits for employees along with the onsite childcare development center. "We have extended leave of absence for moms and dads, paid when they have their children. We have parental learning classes and we also have prenatal classes as well."
Today, more and more companies in the Twin Cities provide onsite daycares. Suzanne says it helps the company attract and retain a great employee base. At Allianz Life, parents like Diane can enjoy the fulfillment of their career without losing time from seeing their children throughout the day. "This is the place that we know as a family," says Diane.
My priority is my kids. I'm very proud of what I've done in my career, but I always say the title that I am most proud of is mama.
Protecting the Nursing Working Mother in Our State
Although its been done since the start of humanity, breastfeeding in public is still a controversial topic today. In 2014, Governor Mark Dayton signed the Women's Economic Security Act, strengthening workplace protections and flexibilities for pregnant women and mothers who are nursing or expressing milk. "This law actually applies to every employer in the state of Minnesota regardless of how many employees they have," says Jessica. "This law allows and requires that the employer provides reasonable, unpaid time off to express milk and a location where woman can have privacy and can have access to an outlet and cannot be in a bathroom."
This law specifically says this it can't be a bathroom and needs to be in the individual workers location, so you don't have to go down the street to be able to express milk.
That wasn't the case for Tara. After giving birth to her third child in 2011, she was fired for pumping milk at her workplace. "He called me [the employer] the Sunday night before and said that I'm not going to allow it to happen. It's going to affect my business and I ended up telling him I am going to look into my rights, but when I went into work the next day, he just let me go anyway," explains Tara.
Shortly after, she teamed up with local non-profit Gender Justice to settle her case. "We brought a case for Tara even though we might not of had any way to get remedies for her in damages," said Lisa Stratton, the co-founder of Gender Justice. The local-based non-profit works to address the causes and consequences of gender inequality through legal and policy advocacy. "As public interest lawyers, we thought, well, we need to tell this story. It needs to be clear that this still is happening to women despite the law so we can go to court and even if all we win is a court order that says 'you violated this law,' we then have that to show to legislators that this law is not working without the remedy. [Tara] was really willing to take a stand to help all the other women who might end up in the same circumstance."
Mother's who choose to express milk at work have had the right to do so for over two decades. In 1998, Minnesota passed the nation’s first law requiring employers to provide accommodations for nursing mothers. But at the time, the law was not enforceable.
Women have the right to do this in the workplace and don't think I knew how many women actually did struggle to get those rights given to them.-Tara.
After the passing of the Women's Economic Security Act, the right of a nursing mother at the workplace were expanded, requiring the employer to provide reasonable unpaid breaks and a safe, clean space for a woman to express milk. "We want to really help resolve the issue as quick as possible so that both employers and employees can both be in compliance with the law, but so that we are not creating greater barriers related to pregnancy or nursing mothers" says Jessica.
The Evolution of the Working Mom Over the Last 50 Years
Times have changed for the working mom in America over the last 50 years. According to the US Census Bureau, about 66 percent or 2 out of 3 first time mothers work during their pregnancy today. 50 years ago, it was 44 percent.
Today, more women are working sooner after their first birth. In the early 1960's, an average of 10 percent of women went back to work within three months of having a child. In 2008, it jumped to 44 percent of women.
In the last 50 years, laws have changed and have been created to protect the working mother.
So what makes Minnesota's parental leave law unique? "Our pregnancy accommodation law is a strong one. I think with having some automatic accommodations that women who are pregnant can get into the workplace; that protection for pregnant women is unique throughout the country. I also think our nursing mother's law, while there's a lot of movement to that in many places in the country, I think our nursing mother's law is particularly beneficially protective of nursing moms," explains Jessica.
Today, more moms returning back to work are choosing to nurse their baby. Lisa says we still need to spread more awareness that the right to express milk in the workplace exists. "It isn't very meaningful if you don't know," says Lisa.
For more information on Minnesota's parental leave laws, please visit: http://www.dli.mn.gov/ls/ParLeave.asp
To learn more about local, non-profit Gender Justice, please visit: http://www.genderjustice.us/