Q: I work for a 100-employee company in Los Angeles. I recently returned to work after maternity leave. Since I decided to breastfeed my newborn, I needed to periodically pump breast milk at work. When I asked my supervisor if there is a room in the building where I could do this, I was told to do it in the bathroom. I objected because I think it is unsanitary. My supervisor said there was nothing he could do. He also told me I needed to pump milk only on my 10-minute breaks. What are my rights?
A: There are laws in California that protect the rights of pregnant employees and new mothers in the workplace. Our lawmakers recently revised current law to better protect the lactation rights of mothers. The following provisions will be effective January 1, 2020.
An employer shall provide an employee with the use of a room for the employee to express milk in private. The room may include the place where the employee normally works if it meets legal requirements.
A lactation room shall not be a bathroom and shall be near the employee's work area, shielded from view, and free from intrusion while the employee is expressing milk. Where a multipurpose room is used for lactation, the use of the room for lactation shall take precedence over the other uses, but only for the time it is in use for lactation purposes. An employer in a multi-tenant building or multi-employer worksite may provide a space shared among multiple employers within the building or worksite.
A lactation room shall comply with all of the following requirements:
- Be safe, clean, and free of hazardous materials
- Contain a surface to place a breast pump and personal items
- Contain a place to sit
- Has access to electricity, extension cords or charging stations, needed to operate an electric or battery-powered breast pump
- Has access to a sink with running water and a refrigerator (or cooler) suitable for storing milk in close proximity to the employee's workspace.
An employer with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt if it can demonstrate that compliance would impose an undue hardship when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, or nature of the employer's business. However, that employer shall still make reasonable efforts to provide the employee with the use of a room, other than a toilet stall, for the employee to express milk in private.
The denial of reasonable break time or adequate space to express milk shall be deemed a violation of the law, which entitles an aggrieved employee to remedies.
An employer cannot discharge, or in any other manner discriminate or retaliate against, an employee for exercising her lactation rights. The law further requires the employer to develop and implement a lactation accommodation policy that includes the following:
- A statement about an employee's right to request lactation accommodation.
- The process by which the employee may request lactation accommodation
- An employer's obligation to respond to the request
- The employer's duty to provide a written response if it cannot provide break time or any lactation accommodation
- A statement about an employee's right to file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner for any violation of their lactation rights
Employers must include these policies in their employee handbook and give a copy of the policy to new employees and those who inquire or request parental leave.