This is something that I have been wanting to write about, but haven’t because of the “special” circumstances surrounding the issue. I am going to write about it now because I can’t stop thinking about it and it has made me so very angry, but I will be attempting to tread lightly. Everything I write will be fact, and anything that is my opinion will be labeled as such. I was not asked to sign any confidentiality agreement, and will not do so.
About 6 or so months ago, I was called into my HR Manager’s office and told that I was being given an official warning on my record for breastfeeding while at work and in a meeting. I was told that no one had complained, but that she (the HR Manager) had noticed two of the men in attendance avert their eyes when I went to breastfeed Rowan (quite discreetly, I might add, as I have NO interest in anyone I work with, besides my husband, seeing my boobs). She claimed that she could tell that they were uncomfortable and that she had to give me this warning to protect the company from potential lawsuits. She said that my actions could lead to someone complaining about an uncomfortable work environment and that I was not allowed to breastfeed with others present when they couldn’t choose to leave (like in a meeting). She said that they had provided me with an office with a door for that very reason (I had the office with the door before I even got pregnant or started TRYING to get pregnant, so whatever).
I was thrown, but could see her point. I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, and I certainly don’t want to be the cause of the company getting sued. At the same time, I didn’t really know what the solution was because I am more or less forced to have Rowan with me at these meetings and I can’t really leave, either. What can I do?
Jump forward a few months to when I was asked to attend a conference call in the office of a coworker on very short notice (there was NO way to get childcare). I had Rowan who was, thankfully, asleep… at first. In the middle of the conference call, Rowan woke up. I did what I think any breastfeeding mother would do when their baby starts wailing in public and I stuck my boob in her mouth- again, I was VERY discreet, though it was certainly clear what I was doing. I’m 100% positive that I didn’t flash any nipple. We carried on with the conference call and my coworker never said a thing to me.
Flash forward again to a couple of weeks or maybe a month or so ago. I was called into the same HR Manager’s office, along with MY manager, and given a WRITTEN REPRIMAND, which I had to sign, saying that I had again broken the “rules” by breastfeeding Rowan in front of a “captive audience,” that he had complained, and that the company was doing their due diligence to avoid a lawsuit. I was told that the lawsuit, should it come to that, would fall under SEXUAL HARASSMENT. Then my manager told me that, whether I agree or not, “breastfeeding is not the norm in this culture,” which isn’t entirely true, and was certainly just his opinion (from a very conservative, white, religious man who adopted all but one of his 7 children). They ended by asking me to apologize to my coworker.
I did not apologize. I was embarrassed. I was made to feel like a deviant, and worse, a SEXUAL deviant who involved my child in my deviant ways.
Keep in mind that my company was WELL aware that I am a breastfeeding mother and that I warned them before each of these meetings that I would have to have Rowan with me. I was specifically asked to attend each of these meetings, and they were not the kind of meetings that I could just get up and leave. In fact, for the second one, I was one of only two people in the room, if you don’t count Rowan.
In the weeks following, I have gotten more and more angry. As I’ve written elsewhere, this experience has turned me from a dedicated breastfeeding supporter to a fervent lactivist.
I have also researched a lot of breastfeeding laws for California, and was amazed (and bolstered) to find this: Cal. Civil Code § 43.3 (1997) allows a mother to breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present. (AB 157)
Upon finding that, I immediately wrote an email to my HR Manager, my manager, and the President of my company asking that, at the very least, they remove the warning and the reprimand from my record. I cited the CA Code and other relevant legal verbiage.
Unfortunately, my manager is on vacation until the 6th, and the HR Manager doesn’t want to proceed until she has a chance to discuss it with him.
I think they were fully wrong. I feel that my rights have been violated. I feel insulted and angry and sad.
To complicate matters further, the HR Manager was a woman who I considered my friend. No longer. I believe that she let her personal feelings about breastfeeding get in the way.
Adding to the complication is the fact that the President happens to be my father. This is his company, the company he gave up being around for my childhood to build. This company has always been almost like another sibling to me. I don’t want to hurt them; I don’t want to hurt my father and what he’s worked so hard for. We are also an ESOP company, so any injury to the company is an injury to every employee. I can’t have that on my conscience.
However, I will not let this go. I will not sit back and allow this to remain on my professional record uncontested. They are wrong, of that I am sure.