Working mothers in California will soon have stronger support for workplace lactation accommodation. Starting Jan. 1, 2020, employers must provide lactating mothers with a place that is private, secure and close to their workstation in order to pump. Additionally, the room must be equipped with a chair as well as a table or shelf to store their pumping equipment, along with access to electricity, running water and a refrigerator or cooler in which to store their milk. These must all be close to their workstation.
As our Los Angeles employment attorneys have been made aware, too many new mothers have been forced to express milk in a restroom, closet, vehicle or other location that isn’t ideal. Research shows that lack of a proper lactation space is especially a hardship among lower-income workers of color.
This new measure mandates companies to inform their workers of their right to express breast milk on-the-job, as well as provide the space and adequate time for it. Any violations of these rights must be reported to the state’s Labor Commissioner’s Office.
Federal and Local Lactation Rights
Some of these rights are touched on in some federal and local statutes. For example, the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) compels employers to provide lactating workers with both time and a place (not a bathroom) in which to pump their milk. However, it does not impose the other specifications that are spelled out in SB-142, the California law.
A previous attempt by the same sponsor of that bill was vetoed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, though Brown did eventually sign AB-1976 into law last year. That measure did require employers to provide “a reasonable amount of break time” for lactating mothers, and to provide a private place close in proximity to her work area (not a toilet) in which to do so. It lacked the other specifics in the more recent legislation.
The year before, San Francisco passed an ordinance – the first of its kind in the country – that mirrors much of what is in SB-142.
Even still, these standards are considered “minimum” by many breastfeeding advocacy groups. They outline potential liability for employers who violate these standards while also protecting working mothers from workplace retaliation for exercising these rights.
Harassment for Exercise of Lactation Rights
It has unfortunately not been uncommon for companies to retaliate against workers for attempting to exercise these rights. Women have been transferred, demoted and even fired for seeking the right to express milk for their infant children.
The law does allow exemptions for companies with fewer employees, citing difficulty for small businesses to make these accommodations and small operating margins with which to make the necessary changes.
Still, employers with little access to free space can purchase portable lactation rooms at relatively little cost. These spaces have been used in places where space is an expensive commodity.
Even with the minimal guidelines outlined by federal standards, it’s fair to say many workplaces are still out of compliance.
It’s estimated in California that 50 percent of mothers work during pregnancy, and the majority of them plan to continue working while they are still breastfeeding their babies.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949-375-4734.