The Chamber View: At times, even motherhood and apple pie need to be scrutinized

They say there are some things you just do not touch, like motherhood and apple pie, which we hold sacred and dear.

However, when bills keep coming down the pike that increase burdens on businesses, something has to be said so we can look at the reasonableness of the legislation being proposed, especially when the bill itself does not address the impact on businesses.

SB532 SD1 HD1 “Relating to Breastfeeding in the Workplace” is one such bill before the Legislature now.

While well-intentioned, it will increase administrative burdens and the cost of doing businesses for all businesses as it defines “Employer” as “a person who has one or more employees.”

The bill, if passed, would require:

“Opportunity to express milk. (a) An employer shall provide: (1) Reasonable break time for an employee to express milk for the employee’s nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time the employee has a need to express breast milk; and (2) A location, other than the restroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public that may be used by an employee to express breast milk. (b) Every employer covered by this section shall post a notice in a conspicuous place accessible to employees and use other appropriate means to keep the employer’s employees informed of the protections and obligations under this part. (c) Subsection (a) shall not apply to any employer who has fewer than ___ (left open) employees if the employer can show that the requirements under subsection (a) would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.”

The bill is vague on many key points that would help us better understand the depth of financial impact it will have on businesses, such as:

* Are current breaks and meal times applied to this reasonable amount of time? If not, who will cover the additional time and who is supposed to pay for that? Will the employee make up the time spent expressing milk, extending her day?

* What is considered to be a reasonable amount of time for employees to express milk? It can take a considerable amount of time.

* “Need to express milk” is not defined. Often when one is breast-feeding, the cry of another child can start milk flowing. Is that a “need”? Is feeling uncomfortable a “need”? How many interruptions might a business experience over the course of a day? These things can happen all of a sudden, so how is an employer supposed to be able to plan for this?

* While there is a provision for businesses with fewer than (some number of) employees to be exempt, the employer must prove undue hardship, a burden in itself. Further, who is this to be proved to and what level of information is required?

Since the bill provides accommodations for up to one full year after a child is born, imagine what happens if a business employs several women who are breast-feeding at the same time.

Additionally, many women stop breast feeding for a number of reasons. Does the break accommodation end? The bill does not say.

While the concept of increasing the numbers of breast-fed children and for longer periods is a good idea, it is unfair to put this burden on the backs of businesses and continually ask them to pay more. There are other ways this can be accomplished. That is why we oppose this bill.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.