Hey New Mamas, Get to Know Your Rights in the Workplace From breastfeeding to working from home.

By Briefly | photo courtesy of Stocksy

Looking to simplify the legal and financial to-do lists that have been stacking up over the years? Look no further than our friends at Briefly, the future for legal and financial primary care. Here, they drop some knowledge on the five most important legal rights to know about for new parents. 

You have the right to breastfeed (and in a comfortable setting) 

Moms in the majority of workplaces have the right to “break time” to pump breast milk at work. The Federal “break time” law applies to all companies with 50 or more employees; and to smaller companies unless they can prove that complying with the law would create an “undue hardship” – a very high bar to meet. A lot of states have laws that make this “break time” requirement stronger and more clear – you can see an up-to-date list of those laws on the website of the National Conference of State Legislators

Working moms who are breastfeeding have the right to a clean, private, place that is not a bathroom, for pumping at work. This is a real legal right. This is not a nice employer doing you a favor. You cannot be retaliated against for asking for time to pump and you shouldn’t feel intimidated to ask. 

You have the right to advance in your career as a mother (duh)

Family Status discrimination (also known as “Caregiver Discrimination”) protects people from being treated differently at work because of caregiving obligations or his or her role as a caregiver. This can include things like the stereotyping of mothers—characterizing them as less competent or able to do tough work; committed or less deserving of advancement—is all too common; poor treatment of men who are active caregivers; and not treating requests for schedule changes for caregiving in the same manner as other requests for schedule changes.

There is no federal caregiver/family status discrimination law – but some states and cities have adopted them. For a great up-to-date guide to these laws, check out A Better Balance’s caregiver discrimination guide.

You have the right to….ask to work from home (that’s all we got)

Lots of parents wonder if they have the right to work from home during the pandemic, particularly those who work “desk” jobs. Unfortunately, there is no Federal law that grants this right – and most states don’t protect it either.  

Some states and cities have laws that give you the right to not be retaliated against for requesting a schedule change because of caregiving duties (this is part of caregiver discrimination – see above!), but that’s pretty much it. Only a few places, including NYC, actually protect the right to get a schedule change. A Better Balance has a great resource for looking up these kinds of laws by state or city.

The good news is lots of workplaces have flex work or work-from-home policies that employers need to apply fairly. So be sure to ask for a copy of the work-from-home policy.

You have the right to want some flex spending (ask for it!)

Some employers offer a benefit called a Flex Spending Account (FSA) for Dependent Care—this account allows you to pay for dependent care expenses on a pre-tax basis. Many people don’t realize that these accounts can be used to pay for expenses incurred in paying for the care of an adult, like an aging parent or an older disabled child. If you max out this account, it’s a bit like getting a 25%-30% discount on at least some of your child care expenses. So ask your employer if they offer one – and if they don’t, recommend it. They are pretty inexpensive for companies. 

What is a Dependent Care Expense? The funds in the Dependent Care FSA can pay for child care expenses for a dependent child who is under 13 years old. These expenses can include:

  • In-home Caretakers
  • Elder daycare
  • Transport expenses
  • Specialized equipment
  • Various fees incurred in obtaining or finding care

How Dependent Care FSAs Work. Dependent Care FSAs are established by employers for their employees—you can’t set them up as an individual. Employee participants authorize their employers to withhold a specified amount (up to $5000 for a married couple and $2,500 for parents filing taxes singly) from their paychecks each pay period and deposit the money in an FSA account. The money is withheld pre-tax—like a 401(k) All of the money that you would have otherwise paid in taxes goes towards child care instead. Crucially, depending on care FSAs have a use it or lose it rule – you need to spend all money in (roughly) the year you put it in the account or you will lose it.

You have the right to take off due to Covid-19 (sort of)

A final note – the American Rescue plan gives employers the opportunity to receive tax credits for providing paid leave for employees who miss work because of COVID-related issues (e.g. they contract COVID, are ordered to quarantine, school closures, etc.). The law doesn’t require employers to do this, but it gives them an incentive to.  However, this tax credit expires on September 30, 2021 – unless Congress decides to extend it.