New State and Federal Legislation Expands the Rights of Mothers Who Breastfeed or Express Milk at Work

The federal government and New York State have recognized the inadequacy of preexisting workplace protections for working women who are pregnant or nursing. To address these shortcomings, both have enacted new laws designed to reduce the inequitable disadvantages pregnant or breastfeeding workers face on the job. If you've endured employment discrimination for choosing to balance both a career and new motherhood, a knowledgeable New York pregnancy discrimination lawyer can help you pursue a judgment giving you essential financial compensation and driving important change at your place of work.

Last August, the U.S. Department of Labor began "a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of" the newly expanded federal protections available to nursing workers under the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act. The PUMP Act, which President Biden signed into law on the same day he signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, provides critical supplementation to existing protections. 

Specifically, the PUMP Act closed a major loophole in a decade-old law. The federal government originally enacted protections for nursing mothers in 2010 as part of the Affordable Care Act but codified those protections within the Fair Labor Standards Act. That meant the new protections didn't cover nursing mothers who were "exempt" employees under the FLSA. The PUMP Act changed that, applying crucial protections to both exempt and non-exempt employees who are breastfeeding or pumping.

Federal Requirements for a Designated Pumping Space

The new law lays out some minimum standards for what does -- and what does not -- constitute an appropriate space for pumping. The law says that the pumping area must be "shielded from view and free from, intrusion from coworkers and the public," and cannot be a bathroom or toilet stall.

The U.S. Department of Labor has also instructed employers that the designated space must be functional for pumping. That means it must include a seat and a flat surface to place the worker's pump.

The PUMP Act also says that, while employers are not required to give nursing mothers paid nursing breaks, those employers also cannot forbid nursing employees from nursing during the paid breaks the employer provides to all its employees.

New York State's Standards for Pumping Breaks and Spaces

The State of New York also took affirmative steps to protect nursing workers recently. Last June, a new amendment to Section 206-c of the New York Labor Law took effect. This amendment expands employers' obligations, demanding that they allow "reasonable break time" for each occasion when a nursing worker has a "reasonable need to express breastmilk," and allow nursing workers to take these pumping breaks for as much as three years after they give birth.

The amendment to Section 206-c addresses appropriate pumping locations, requiring that in addition to being shielded from view and free from intrusion (as the PWFA requires,) a designated space for expressing milk must also be "well-lit" and "in close proximity to the work area."

The amendment lays out a fairly detailed list of things a pumping space must be or include. The law says that the space "shall provide, at minimum, a chair, a working surface, nearby access to clean running water and, if the workplace is supplied with electricity, an electrical outlet." As with the federal law, the state law also bans using bathrooms or toilet stalls as designated pumping spaces.

Another potential problem area that the law tackles is employers whose designated pumping space for expressing milk is also used for other purposes. In that situation, the law demands that the room be available to pumping workers whenever needed and not be used for any other purpose for the entire time the pumping worker needs to express milk.

Additionally, the amendment to Section 206-c makes it especially difficult for New York employers to escape their obligations to nursing workers via the "undue hardship" exception. The amendment narrowed that exception, stating that if providing a space that meets all the demands of Section 206-c(2)(a) and 206-c(2)(b) would be impractical due to the undue hardship it would impose, employers do not get a "free pass" to do nothing. They still must "make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, other than a restroom or toilet stall, that is in close proximity to the work area where an employee can express breast milk in privacy."

Unlike the federal law, the amended state law covers all employers, regardless of size.

Pregnancy discrimination on the job can take many different forms. If you think your employer (or prospective employer) has taken an adverse action against you because you were breastfeeding or pumping, don't wait to get in touch with the skilled New York pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today to put our resources, experience, and knowledge to work for you. Our team has helped women harmed by impermissible pregnancy bias across the five boroughs, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties, and we're eager to discuss how we can help you.

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