An Alabama mother knew going back to work after having her baby wouldn’t be easy but she didn’t expect to be fired for supposedly asking for two unpaid breaks to pump breast milk.
Haley Gentle said she regrets waiting until after her unpaid maternity leave to discuss her breastfeeding options with her employer. The new mother told WDAF that she worked for a small company with less than 50 employees.
She didn’t know her rights in the workplace as a breastfeeding mother vary based on the number of employees at her company until she learned her employer had the right to deny her request to pump at work.
When Gentle returned from maternity leave after January 2019, she emailed her boss about pumping during the workday, she wrote:
I’m breastfeeding my baby and plan on pumping. I have a hands-free device that I will need to use during work maybe twice, once during 8-5, and the other time I can during lunch. Pumping will not require me to be away from my desk, computer, or the phone. It’s silent and no one would even know I’m doing so.
Her employer replied:
I do have an issue with the pumping. You will be able to do it on your lunch hour but not during work time. What I allow for you I would have to allow for others.
Shortly after Gentle was told she couldn’t use her breast pump during work hours, and she was reportedly let go from the company after advocating for her rights. She said:
“I feel like I did everything that a mother should do. I went and I found out what my rights were.”
The new mom followed up with her boss in a certified letter asking for two daily, 20-minute unpaid pumping breaks. Yet, not only was her second request denied, but Gentle said she was fired.
Attorney Teri Mastando for Mastando & Artrip LLC explained the mom’s dilemma to the station:
“Pregnant women do have rights in the workplace. Unfortunately, what rights you have varies based on the number of employees your company has.
They can only deny those breaks if they can show there’s a hardship involved. What kind of financial hardship is it on a company to provide those breaks that the person is asking for to express breast milk.”
Due to “undue hardship” on the company Gentle was denied breaks.
In response to the ordeal, she said she’s sharing her story to educate pregnant women and new mothers about their rights in the workplace. Gentle said:
“Suddenly I’m not valuable to them anymore because I asked to pump? I don’t want to work for a company that doesn’t support that. I don’t want to go back to work for somebody like that.”
A few days later, her employer said they were willing to discuss her accommodations but she had already found another job.
Watch the video below: