Jun 28 2010

California Breastfeeding Today

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.

Opinion time:

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.

Not Opinion:

I have also researched a lot of breastfeeding laws for California, and was amazed (and bolstered) to find this: Cal. Civil Code ยง 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.

Opinion again:

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.

9 Comments

  • By Forgotten, June 29, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

    I followed the link in your comment on Anne Nahm’s blog post about breastfeeding. I completely agree that the company was wrong. I also think that it is your father’s, the president of the company’s, responsibility to make sure that his company is following state legislation. By placing that reprimand in your file they are violating state legislation and he needs to know this so that since you are nice and do not feel that you want to persue litigation, he needs to correct this from within the company.

    He has an opportunity for human growth in this instance by providing this as a teaching opportunity for his HR personnel and the entire staff. He needs to make a very noticible effort to educate and inform his staff of the appropriate actions in these conditions.

    He also needs to make a personal apology to you on behalf of the company as well as making the HR person give you an apology for not checking state laws before giving you a reprimand. He needs to make sure that HR personnel are instructed about how to handle complaints. I would also suggest a sensitivity workshop for employees of the company if parents are going to be allowed to bring their children to work because this won’t be a singular incident if more people than just yourself will be bringing a child into the office.

    Good luck with whatever course of action you choose to take in this matter but I would definitely make sure that statement comes out of your file and I would check again at a later time to make sure that it has indeed been removed after the fact.

    Best wishes from one breastfeeding mother to another!

  • By yolanda, July 16, 2010 @ 5:26 am

    I am so sorry that you have to deal with this BS. I agree that your HR person should have looked up some laws before handing you this. You told them you had to bring Rowan with you- which is it ok to bring baby to the office? I mean I do understand people could get uncomfortable, but they knew you were bringing her and babies do eat! And, it keeps baby happy making it easier for you to concentrate on your meeting.

    It makes me upset that this is an issue for others. I say feed on mama! I hope this issue is resolved in your favor.

  • By admin, July 19, 2010 @ 4:11 pm

    It was okay to bring her to the office because I had specifically been given permission to have her there and she had been there MANY times with no problem (and been breastfed many times with no problem!).

  • By ticknart, July 22, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

    Hey, happy 366th to the youngest of you Taylors!

  • By ticknart, July 22, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

    Ah, that was supposed to read “366th day.” Whoops.

  • By yolanda, July 23, 2010 @ 5:53 am

    Well they are being unfair to you! I just read a blog that someone got asked to bf in the bathroom at a swimming pool. What’s going on with people?
    meanwhile i have weaned my last baby, boo. My girls are officially retired.
    Bitter sweet…

  • By ticknart, September 3, 2010 @ 7:05 pm

    If I could, I’d ask this via e-mail, which is where you should reply if you don’t want to blog about it, but how was the first day of school? I hope it went really well.

Other Links to this Post

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