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New York City Passes Lactation Room Laws

The New York City Council recently passed two bills which require employers in New York City to provide a lactation room and a written policy regarding its use.  The Mayor signed the bills into law on November 17, 2018, and they become effective March 18, 2019.  The first bill sets parameters for a lactation room and the second requires a written lactation room policy. 

Lactation Room Requirements

Under Int. No. 879-A, employers are required to provide lactation rooms (i.e. a place to express breast milk).  The lactation room must:

  • Be a sanitary place other than a restroom;
  • Be used to express breast milk, shielded from view and free from intrusion;
  • Have an electrical outlet;
  • Have a chair;
  • Have a surface on which to place a breast pump; and
  • Have nearby access to running water.

Employers are also required to provide lactation “accommodations” which include (1) a lactation room in reasonable proximity to the employee’s work area and (2) a refrigerator suitable for breast milk storage in reasonable proximity to the employee’s work area. 

If the lactation room is used for other purposes, it can only be used as a lactation room when an employee is expressing breast milk.  When this happens, the employer must provide notice to other employees that the room is given preference for use as a lactation room.  Employers should think through how they plan to do this in a discrete way.  No breastfeeding employee wants the equivalent of an “I am half naked in here” sign on the door nor a co-worker barging in while they are pumping.  Therefore, a sign that discretely says “Lactation Room Occupied” might be a good alternative. A lock on the door is also recommended to prevent intruders.   

If providing a lactation room constitutes an undue hardship for the employer, the employer must engage in a cooperative dialogue with the employee to identify a solution for breastfeeding at work.

Lactation Room Accommodation Policy

The second bill, Int. No. 905-A, requires employers to develop a written policy regarding the provision of a lactation room.  The policy must be distributed to new employees upon hire and include a statement that employees have a right to request a lactation room and identify a process by which employees may request a lactation room. 

The policy must:

  • Include information about how an employee may submit a lactation room request;
  • Require the employer to respond to a request within a reasonable amount of time not to exceed five business days;
  • Provide a procedure to follow when two or more individuals need to use the lactation room at the same time, including contact information for any follow-up required;
  • State that the employer shall provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk; and
  • State that if the request for a lactation room poses an undue hardship for the employer it will engage in a cooperative dialogue with the employee.

Under the law, the New York City Commission on Human Rights is required to create a policy and model lactation room request form which can be used by employers.  Neither of these documents are available yet.  Both laws will take effect the same day in March 2019.

It has long been the law in New York State that employers are required to provide break time and a location for employees to express breastmilk.  For employers in New York City, this new local law fleshes out what the exact space and office procedure requirements are.  To get ahead of the curve, employers in NYC should start thinking about what room can be used for lactation purposes and if there is a refrigerator available.  If you don’t already have a small fridge for this purpose, fear not – Amazon Prime can ship one in two days. 

These two new laws also provide an opportunity for employers to garner goodwill with working parents.  While the law sets the floor for what the lactation room should contain, the employer can take the ball and run with it.  The room could be painted in calming colors, include magazines, a noise machine, etc.  In essence, it could be designed as a retreat for those expressing breast milk and even for others where a break is a good idea.  These inexpensive but extra touches could really go a long way to boost employee morale and help make your company a great place to work for parents.  They can also help your company communicate in subtle ways you value working parents.

Brody and Associates regularly provides counsel on civil rights issues and employment laws in general.  If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.454.0560.