By Douglas Gerhardt, Partner, Harris Beach, PLLC
A recently enacted law requires New York employers to re-evaluate and amend, as necessary, the provisions they make to accommodate nursing mothers in the workplace. The recent Labor Law amendment enhances employer obligations and proactively accommodates the needs of nursing mothers.
The amended law requires employers to designate a specific room or location for lactation and adds details on what the room/location must have. Specifically, employers must designate a lactation room/location which is: not a restroom; well lit; shielded from view; free from intrusion of other people; includes a chair; includes a work surface (e.g., a table or desk); has access to running water; and has an electrical outlet, if the workplace is otherwise supplied with electricity. Further, if the workplace has access to a refrigerator, employers must provide nursing mothers access to the refrigerator for the purpose of storing expressed milk. This does not mean a separate fridge.
Employers are required to provide notice to employees as soon as practicable when the lactation room is designated. If, due to space or other considerations a separate room is not possible (i.e., a room only to be used for lactation), employers must designate a room for lactation use that must be made available when needed by a nursing mother. Employers can proactively create a designated lactation space or respond to employee requests for such a space. Employers must respond to such requests within five days. The aim of the new requirements is to better ensure privacy for nursing mothers as well as provide a comfortable setting to express milk.
The new law also directs the Department of Labor to develop a written policy setting forth the rights of nursing employees to express breast milk in the workplace. That is expected prior to the effective date of June 7, 2023. And, employers must provide the policy to all employees in three separate circumstances: upon hiring, annually, and to an employee returning to work after the birth of a child. The law contains certain exceptions for employers who will face “significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.” Even in these cases however, employers still must make “reasonable efforts” to set up a private, non-restroom location for lactation.
In advance of June 7, 2023, employers should consider what changes are necessary to make their workplaces compliant. This positive change in the law will help nursing mothers without imposing an undue burden on employers.