HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (CBS Local) — An Alabama mother who lost her job after she asked her employer if she could pump breast milk at work is speaking out to raise awareness.
Haley Gentle said she was planning to return to work after she gave birth to her baby in January. Her employer was planning on her return, too, until she asked if she could pump breast milk at work.
“I was told almost immediately that that was not allowed — that I could pump during my lunch hour but not during work time because what he would allow for me he would have to allow for other people,” Gentle told CBS affiliate WHNT.
“Pregnant women do have rights in the workplace,” said Teri Mastando, an attorney who specializes in employment laws. “Unfortunately, what rights you have varies based on the number of employees your company has.”
Gentle’s company had less than 50 employees, which meant any accommodations the company didn’t want to make for her have to be proved as an “undue hardship.”
“I feel like that I did everything that a mother should do,” she said. “I went and I found out what my rights were.”
Gentle followed up with her employer by sending a certified letter asking for reasonable accommodations — two 20-minute unpaid breaks to pump.
“They can only deny those breaks if they can show there’s a hardship involved,” Mastando said.
A few days later, after receiving the certified letter, Gentle’s employer said it would be willing to discuss accommodations. By that time, however, Gentle had decided she’d prefer to work somewhere else.
She now has a new job lined up where she will have access to a private pumping room any time she needs it.
Gentle has since been appointed the Alabama ambassador for the Normalize Breastfeeding initiative.
“I want mothers to know that there are support groups out there,” she said. “And for them to know their rights, too.”
“Unfortunately, in my world, ‘right’ and ‘legal obligations’ are two different things,” Mastando said. “The best advice I would give to someone doing that is to find out in advance and get in writing what their employer’s plan is.”