Workplace Protections for Breastfeeding Mothers
On 8 January 2018, New Jersey became the 18th US state to enact civil rights protection for breastfeeding mothers. New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination now expressly prohibits discrimination or retaliation by employers against employees expressing breast milk for their infant children. New Jersey joins 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico with laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace.
Under the federal Affordable Care Act, employers of 50 or more non-exempt employees are required to provide space and time for expressing breast milk until the child reaches one year of age. New Jersey’s law expands this protection to employers of all sizes.
Under the New Jersey law, employers must provide breastfeeding employees ‘reasonable break time’ and a ‘suitable room or other location with privacy’ to express breast milk for their infant children. The room or location must be in close proximity to the employee’s work area and may not be a toilet stall. The U.S. Department of Labor, which is charged with enforcing the equivalent requirement at the federal level, interprets suitable to mean:
- a place to sit;
- an outlet to plug in a breast pumping machine;
- a lockable door;
- a space that is reasonably clean.
Exemptions from the law’s requirements are available if an employer can prove that accommodating an employee would pose ‘an undue hardship on business operations’.
Employers may not treat breastfeeding employees differently from other employees, and may not discriminate or retaliate against employees exercising their rights under the Discrimination law.
Employers’ Bottom Line
To avoid issues, employers should engage in a dialogue with affected employees and ask where they would feel comfortable. The accommodation provided may be an unused office, break room, or other location that provides the necessary space and privacy. Employers should clearly communicate expectations for the use and privacy of the space to all employees, not just breastfeeding mothers.