Two new laws passed by the New York City Counsel went into effect on March 18, 2019 regarding employers’ requirements to provide lactation rooms and accommodations for employees. These new laws apply to employers with four or more employees in New York City and they require employers to provide lactation rooms to employees upon request, state the minimum standards the lactation room must comply with, and require employers to develop and implement new lactation policy and notice requirements.
These new laws now require NYC employers to provide two specific accommodations to employees who want to express breast milk during the work day: (1) a room where employees may express breast milk and (2) a refrigerator for employees to store breast milk during the workday. The laws require employers to have a room for lactation that complies with the statutory standards (absent undue hardship) and develop and distribute a written lactation policy.
As per the legislation, a “lactation room” must be sanitary (not a restroom) and must be free from intrusion and shielded from the view of others. The room must also contain at least one electrical outlet, a surface for employees to place personal items (i.e., a breast pump, etc.), and a chair. The lactation room should be located near the employee’s workplace and near running water so employees may wash their hands and/or clean breast pump parts.
If an employer’s dedicated lactation room is also a space used for another purpose, the room shall be solely used as a lactation room when an employee needs to express breast milk. Employers are obligated to provide notice to employees that employees who need to use the multi-purpose room to express breast milk will be given priority over employees using the room for other reasons. Employers may want to use a room with a door that locks or to place a sign on the door stating the room is occupied and its occupants are not to be disturbed.
If an employer cannot provide a multi-purpose space or dedicated room available for lactation because providing one would pose an undue hardship on the employer, the employer is required to engage in a cooperative dialogue to ensure employees will be able to express breast milk at work. Such accommodations may include creating a temporary lactation space, expressing breast milk in a shared space, expressing breast milk at the employee’s work station, or allowing longer breaks for employees to express breast milk.
Regardless of whether an employer has a dedicated room for lactation, employers may not unreasonably limit the amount of time or the frequency that an employee expresses breast milk. If an employer provides compensated breaks, employees who use their break time to express breast mill will be compensated to the same extent and in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time.
The New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) recently released three model lactation accommodation policies for employers located at the CCHR’s website: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/cchr/law/lactation.page. The lactation policy that employers must implement must include a statement that employees have a right to request a lactation room and identify the process for doing so. When drafting a lactation policy, employers must ensure they comply with the following statutory requirements:
Specify the means by which an employee may submit a request for a lactation room;
Require that the employer responds to a request for a lactation room within a reasonable amount of time that does not exceed five business days;
Provide a procedure to follow when two or more employees need to use the lactation room or dedicated space 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 the employer will engage in a cooperative dialogue with employees if the request for a lactation room poses an undue hardship on the employer.
The CCHR has provided a model lactation accommodation request form located on its website.
Employers should note that failure to maintain a lactation accommodation may result in penalties, fines or damages assessed by the CCHR.