Expressing Breast Milk in the Workplace

06.08.2015

New York State has long had a law requiring employers to provide a private space for employees to express breast milk.  NYS Labor Law Section 206-c prohibits discrimination against women who nurse their children or pump breast milk at work, and guarantees breastfeeding mothers the right to pump milk at work for three years after giving birth.  It further requires that employers make reasonable efforts to provide a private room or other location for expression of breast milk.  New York State guidelines state that the room or location provided by the employer cannot be a restroom or a toilet stall.

In addition to New York State Labor Law, the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as the Affordable Care Act) amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) offer protection for nursing moms.

The problem for nursing mothers has been that, until recently, there were no clear enforcement provisions to the New York State or Federal laws.  However, a recent ruling by a U.S. District Court judge in New York found that a private right of action exists under the FLSA for women against employers who violate these laws, and these women can be entitled to damages should they prove their claims.  It should be noted, however, that at this juncture, damages are limited to lost wages or overtime.  Since the law does not require the use of paid time to express breast milk or breast feed in the work place, these damages may be negligible.

Employers should already have a provision in their handbook explaining the rights of nursing mothers.   They must provide reasonable unpaid break time to allow employees to express breast milk, generally not less than 20 minutes per break.  Employers must remain flexible and under most circumstances, provide no less than one unpaid break time at least once every three hours.   For guidance on the rights of nursing mothers in the workplace, it is always a good idea to contact your labor and employment attorney.