Most mothers return to the workforce soon after giving birth. Of those, 80 percent will breastfeed their newborns. It is not hard to do the math and realize that lactation stations are an essential part of modern workplaces.
In New York City, businesses with at least four workers must provide a lactation space so that moms can express and store breast milk while at work. These lactation stations must meet specific guidelines.
Lactation station standards
A restroom stall, empty corner cubicle or janitorial closet is not an appropriate accommodation for mothers to express milk. For many years, working mothers who wished to provide breast milk had to do so almost secretly, as if there was something wrong with providing for their newborns.
Now, under New York City’s guidelines, a lactation space must be a sanitary and private room. The space is expected to be reasonably close to the person’s work environment. Mothers must also be able to secure the space so that others cannot walk in or interrupt them when expressing breast milk.
While the lactation space does not need to be dedicated exclusively for mothers expressing milk, it is expected that:
- The room will have appropriate signage
- There is the ability to sign up or reserve the space if practical
- No surveillance equipment will be on during its use as a lactation space
- All employees have been notified that its use for expressing milk takes precedence over other uses
Under the city’s guidance, employers must articulate their lactation station plan formally and in writing to avoid miscommunications. Failure to do so is considered a failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, which can lead to a legal claim by the employee.
Some employers are excused
Not all employers are obligated to provide a lactation space. Employers can opt out if it places an “undue hardship” on their business. Employers can demonstrate undue hardship in the following ways:
- The accommodation will result in excessive cost
- Reserving a space is unreasonable given the size and space accommodations of the workplace
- The business lacks the financial resources to fund the accommodation
- The accommodation will have a significant negative impact on the business
It is important for employers and mothers to understand that “inconvenience” is not a good enough reason to sidestep the policy. Employers are also required to engage mothers in a “cooperative dialogue” to about the possibility or denial of an accommodation.
But the good news is that companies are now expected to develop a written lactation station policy and distribute it to all employees and potential new hires. The policy may not solve every mom’s challenge, but it represents a step forward.