Poor business people. They’re always in a dilemma. Most want to be as generous as possible to employees. But they don’t want to see some generous act turn around and bite them – which seems to happen in this state.
I saw that on full display a few weeks ago when I was among some company operators who were discussing a new proposed state bill. The business people were torn. They were itching to be supportive of the pro-employee bill, but they openly fretted about how it might end up hurting them.
For clarity’s sake, let’s start at the beginning.
A bill was introduced recently in the statehouse that would force businesses to create lactation rooms. If the bill were to pass as proposed, companies would have to provide a room that is not a restroom so that new mothers would have the privacy to express milk in the workplace.
The rationale: Two of every three new mothers return to work after childbirth, but only 52 percent have workplace lactation-support policies, according to the bill’s author. Women with private spaces at work are more than twice as likely to breastfeed their babies at six months old, which is recommended.
The business operators in my group totally got that. “I’ve got no problem with this,” said one Valley business owner, who hasn’t been known to be supportive of regulations. He explained that he has lots of women employees, and the lactation rooms could be a meaningful improvement for some of them.
Another chimed in: If women instead of men had been the ones to operate businesses historically, lactation rooms would have been the norm 100 years ago. They probably would have been required in building codes from sea to shining sea for decades.
Most in my small group nodded. They wanted to be supportive.
But then we talked about the provisions in the bill. And that’s when support started peeling away.
For one thing, lactation rooms couldn’t be just any simple, private room. They must have hot and cold water. They must include a table, a sitting space, access to electricity and include a refrigerator. The rooms could double as a conference room or multipurpose room, but the new mother’s need to use the room must take priority. Which makes you wonder how you could schedule a conference for your conference room.
The business operators immediately pointed out problems. It’s not cheap to carve out a room complete with plumbing and electricity. Beyond that, lots of Valley area small businesses simply don’t have the square footage to create a special room. And what do you do if you operate, say, a delivery service or kiosks in shopping malls? What do you do if the workplace is a construction site or a street corner because you employ sign spinners? What do you do if, for whatever reason, you don’t employ women of childbearing age?