Muskegon County Clerk is meeting the needs of new mothers returning to work

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By Diana L. Coleman
Legal News

When Muskegon County Circuit Court Records office employee Brytney Duncan was ready to return to work after the birth of her son, Christian, on December 21, 2017, she was uncertain how her employer would accommodate her breast feeding issues.

The law covering this for employers with over 50 employees is called the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law.   This federal law requires employers to provide break time and a place for most hourly wage-earning and some salaried employees (non-exempt workers) to express breast milk at work.  The law states that employers must provide a “reasonable” amount of time and that they must provide a private space other than a bathroom in which to express milk.  They are required to provide this until the employee’s baby turns one year old.

This law, passed and put into place during the Obama administration, became effective March 23, 2010, as Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) which amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.C. 207) by adding at the end of the section the following:

(1) An employer shall provide:

     (A) A reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk; 

     (B) A place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.

(2) An employer shall not be required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time under paragraph (1) for any work time spent for such purpose.

(3) An employer that employs less than 50 employees shall not be subject to the requirements of this subsection, if such requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.

(4) Nothing in the subsection shall preempt a State law that provides greater protections to employees than the protections provided for under this subsection.

Before returning to her position in the circuit court records office after maternity leave, Duncan had a meeting with her supervisor, Muskegon County Circuit Court Deputy Clerk Marcia Wilkes, and Nancy A Waters, Muskegon County Clerk.  “We had talked about it before I went on leave, but it was actually confirmed when I met with Marcia and Nancy before returning to work,” said Duncan.  “They were very receptive and then the big question was where would I express the breast milk?” Clerk Waters reached out to others in the county building for a solution for the question, ‘Where could this expressing of breast milk be done?’  There was not a completely private location in the circuit court records offices nor the county clerk’s suite of offices.  

The Honorable Annette Smedley, Muskegon County Circuit Judge, stepped forward and offered Brytney private space in her suite of offices.  Judge Smedley’s staff has even provided Duncan with a key to the office being used for her purpose so that she does not have to worry about anyone intruding.  “Judge Smedley and her staff have been so accommodating,” said Duncan.  “If I get caught up in things in the office and can’t break at the exact time, Marcia and the staff in circuit court records have been great and work around it.”

Duncan has a morning break and an afternoon break and uses this time to enter the space provided by Judge Smedley and express the breast milk.  “Actually, it is going really well,” said Duncan. “I wake him up to feed early and then pump before I leave for work,” said Duncan.  “He wakes up and has what I pumped before leaving home and then I go home at noon and feed him, and he takes what I pumped in the morning at work in the afternoon. Then when I get home he takes what I pumped in the afternoon. It’s going quite smoothly.”

Brytney Duncan is a Muskegon native who only left the Muskegon area for a time (14 years) to live in Kalamazoo.  She and her husband, Christopher, also have a four-year-old daughter named Chrissy.  In addition to the huge task of taking care of a new baby and a four-year-old while working full time, this strong young woman adopted her niece when she was two weeks old and has raised her. Her adopted daughter Damaya is now 15 years old.  What a challenge – toddlers and a teenager!  Duncan definitely has her hands full.  Duncan shared pictures of her two girls with this author during an interview and they are beautiful, and no doubt will grow up to strong young women with Duncan as their example.

Duncan is extremely appreciative of everyone’s efforts to accommodate her desire to breastfeed her child.  Young Master Christian Duncan, now six months old, was taken into circuit court records following the interview, and it was a battle among staff to see who could get their hands on the baby and hold him the longest.

The county’s efforts to accommodate this returning new mother have been exceptional. While each case is different, the county will do its best under the ACA law to accommodate all employees facing this issue.

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