A reader writes:
Due to the set-up of my company’s new building, we don’t have an area for breastfeeding moms to pump. So management decided that the studio I use regularly for work-related recording sessions will double as a nursing mothers’ room. I am totally on board with this – nursing moms definitely need somewhere comfortable and private to pump. I want to respect their right to have that, and I don’t want to embarrass anyone or make them uncomfortable.
However, it is starting to cause a weird situation that I don’t know how to address. I schedule the room for recording sessions with my interviewees/subjects in advance. The two nursing mothers in the building right now do not have to “book” the room (and they don’t) and can use it whenever they want. This has led to me scheduling a recording time weeks in advance with some very busy people, getting to the room, and finding it occupied… and then me scrambling!
I typically apologize to the person I made an appointment with, send them back to their desk (if they work in our building — otherwise I bring them to the break room), and tell them I will get them once the room is available (and hopefully they’re still free).
I don’t really explain why the room is “double booked,” because I don’t want to make the mom uncomfortable. But I also worry the person thinks I screwed up the schedule.
I also don’t know what to do when I’m waiting for the room to become available. I feel uncomfortable knocking on the door and bugging them. I feel uncomfortable sitting outside the room waiting. And I feel uncomfortable walking back and forth every few minutes to see if they are done.
One of the woman very considerately told me she is usually in there at X and Y times. Which I appreciate, but now I feel like I have to avoid the room during X and Y times (even though it’s not booked and she is not consistently there at that time).
So basically, I have no idea how to keep my meeting times while respecting the idea of a “nursing mothers room.” And I have no idea what I am allowed to say or ask for as someone else who needs the room for work.
So, what the law requires is that the employer provide a space for nursing mothers that is “made available when needed by the nursing mother,” is shielded from view, and is “free from any intrusion from coworkers and the public.”
Because the law requires that if the space isn’t solely dedicated to nursing mothers’ use, “it must be available when needed,” I don’t see how having the room double as a studio can work. What if you’re in there in the middle of a recording session when someone needs to pump?
And then, obviously, there are the issues it’s causing on your side, all of which are reasonable concerns for you to have and none of which make you unsupportive of your nursing colleagues.
I’d recommend going back to the person who arranged this set-up — or asking your boss to go to that person, depending on the dynamics — and pointing this out. Explain that you’re unable to reliably schedule recordings in the space, and that even if it’s free when you show up there, you’ll be preventing anyone from using it while you’re in there, which doesn’t comply with the law.
Depending on your relationships with the women currently using the room, you might loop them in too and see if they want to add their voices to yours in requesting a different set-up. You’ll want to approach them in a way that makes it clear that you’re totally supportive of their right to private space and that this isn’t about you being annoyed that they’re encroaching on your studio, but rather that your main concern is finding them space that actually works — and that won’t lead to them being locked out when a recording is in session or otherwise causing them hassle.