Lactation Rights and the Right to Pump Breast Milk in New York City Workplaces

New York City pregnancy discrimination attorneys can assert claims for their clients under federal, state, and city law. Federal law specifically defines sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions related to either. New York City law provides similar protections, but goes further. Employers in New York City must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, as well as those who have recently given birth. They are also prohibited from discriminating against workers based on caregiving responsibilities for minor children. In 2018, the New York City Council enacted two new laws that require employers to accommodate breastfeeding employees. They must provide employees with a location to express breast milk, as well as sufficient time to do so. This sort of accommodation is lacking in many antidiscrimination laws around the country. The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has published guidelines on its website regarding employees’ lactation rights.

Pregnancy discrimination often takes the form of a direct adverse action on the basis of an employee’s or job applicant’s pregnancy. An employer may decide not to hire an applicant because they are pregnant or have recently given birth. They might terminate or demote an employee upon learning about a pregnancy, or compel a pregnant employee to take unpaid leave. Other acts that could constitute pregnancy discrimination include reassignment to less favorable shifts or job duties, without any reasonable relationship to the employee’s pregnancy and against the employee’s wishes.

Another approach to addressing the rights of pregnant workers involves providing accommodations that enable them to continue working. Pregnant individuals often need drink water and use the restroom more often, for example. They could be subject to lifting restrictions, or under a doctor’s instruction to avoid strenuous physical activity. With some accommodations by their employer, most pregnant workers can continue to work for a substantial portion of their pregnancy.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) defines a “reasonable accommodation” as one “that does not cause undue hardship” to the employer’s ordinary business activities. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-102. An employer commits an unlawful employment practice if they fail to provide reasonable accommodations for “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.” Id. at § 8-107(22)(a). Federal law, in contrast, only covers accommodations for pregnant workers to the extent that they have a condition that falls under the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Local Laws 185 and 186 of 2018 amend the NYCHRL to require accommodations for breastfeeding workers. Existing law provides general guidelines for reasonable accommodations. These new laws address the specific needs associated with lactation, including privacy, cleanliness, and a consistent schedule. Employers must provide a “lactation room,” defined as a sanitary and private room where employees may express breast milk. The room cannot be a restroom. It must include a power outlet and a chair with a table or other flat surface. Employees must have access to running water nearby, and a refrigerator to store expressed milk. Employers must allow breastfeeding employees a reasonable amount of time to express milk, and must develop written policies for use of the lactation room.

The knowledgeable and skilled employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates help New York City workers assert their rights in claims for pregnancy discrimination and other unlawful workplace practices. Please contact us today at (866) 229-9441 or online to schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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