Just a week after the Washington Examiner reported that the Washington, D.C. police department was pushing breastfeeding police officers from desk jobs to the street (as part of a larger effort to push healthy officers claiming illness back to working a beat on full duty, despite the discomfort lactating officers face when wearing tight bulletproof vests), the Examiner now reports that a breastfeeding D.C. police officer was forced to take unpaid leave after the department refused to allow her to work a desk job. Sigh.
The Examiner reports that Officer Sashay Brown returned to work after giving birth to her second child in May, where she worked a desk job while she pumped, but was soon forced to return to her beat. She requested to be put back on a limited-duty desk job because the bulletproof vest she had to wear was painful and could block her milk ducts and reduce her milk supply. A department doctor checked her out and agreed with Brown, recommending that she be put back on limited duty.
Here’s where things get sticky: the head of medical services turned down her request and said she’d either have to use her sick days (of which she has none remaining, following the birth of her baby) or take unpaid leave while department doctors decided whether or not she was fit to work in the field, even though a doctor already said she wasn’t. Brown, who plans to breastfeed through the child’s first year, isn’t getting much help from the department and is now relying on her husband’s income while she attempts to apply for short-term disability. Police Chief Cathy Lanier released a statement saying, “The Department's leave policies for employees who become new parents are designed to address the medical and emotional needs of new families. The lactation policy is also designed to accommodate mothers as they transition back to performing in a full-duty capacity." But, of course, Brown isn’t being accommodated by the police department which, as some have pointed out, is especially disappointing given the police chief is a woman.
"Forcing breastfeeding police officers into financial ruin is not how you build morale and combat attrition," police union chief Kris Baumann told the Examiner. "Instead it is a message to all current and potential D.C. police officers that this not an agency and government that cares about its officers or their families." Baumann adds that breastfeeding mothers should at least have the option of desk duty, as returning to full duty prevents them from accessing the lactation facilities federal law requires be available to employees.
Commenters on websites like Jezebel that have picked up the story are split. Some say the logical solution to a problem like Brown’s is to give longer paid maternity leave but others say, if the job requires it, moms should just bite the bullet and use the bottle. Where do you stand? How far should employers go to accommodate breastfeeding moms?