What You Need to Know About New York City's New “Lactation Room” Laws
There are some forms of sex discrimination that are less about overt conduct and more about institutional barriers. For example, new mothers often find it difficult to juggle their responsibility to care for a new baby with working full time. Among other issues is the need to nurse or express breast milk during the day.
The Basic Components of a Lactation Room
To address this problem, the New York City Council adopted new legislation last year requiring certain employers to provide “lactation rooms” for their employees. The legislation, which took effect on March 18, 2019, also mandates employers “develop and implement” written policies governing lactation rooms.
So, what exactly is a “lactation room”? The law defines it as a “sanitary place, other than a restroom, that can be used to express breast milk shielded from view and free from intrusion.” At a minimum, a lactation room must contain the following items:
- a chair;
- an electrical outlet;
- a table or other surface adequate to support a breast pump and related personal items;
- access to running water; and
- access to a refrigerator “suitable for breast milk” that is located “in reasonable proximity to the employee's work area.”
Now, the employer does not have to dedicate a room exclusively for lactation. It is acceptable to adopt a “multi-purpose room” for purposes of the law. But the employer must give “preference” to the space as a lactation room, and when it is in use by an employee expressing her milk, it cannot be used for another purpose.
Written Lactation Room Accommodation Policies
As mentioned above, New York City law now also requires employers to have a written lactation room accommodation policy. This policy must be distributed to all new employees when they are hired. The policy itself must describe the process by which an employee may request a lactation room. This policy must conform to the following standards:
- The employer must respond to a request for a lactation room accommodation within a “reasonable time” of receiving an employee's request, which in no case may be more than five business days.
- The policy must address situations in which two or more employees need to use the lactation room at the same time.
- The employer must allow for “reasonable break times” for the employee to express breast milk.
Employers Must Engage in “Cooperative Dialogue” or Face Discrimination Charges
If an individual employer believes that meeting the city's lactation room requirements would impose an “undue hardship” on its business, it must engage in a “cooperative dialogue” with any employees who requested an accommodation. A cooperative dialogue is essentially an attempt to find an accommodation that will satisfy both the employer and the employee's needs. Except under vary narrow circumstances, an employer cannot refuse to engage in a cooperative dialogue; to do so is considered a form of illegal sex discrimination under the New York City Human Rights Law.
If you work are a working mother in New York City and have additional questions or concerns about how the new lactation room accommodation laws affect your rights, you should speak with a qualified New York City employment attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Nisar Law Group, P.C., to schedule a consultation with a sex discrimination lawyer today.