New Calif. law requires lactation accommodations at work

2016 12 12 14 55 46 670 California Flag 400

A new California law takes effect on January 1 that requires workplaces to provide certain lactation accommodations for employees. The law also expands protections for nursing mothers and increases penalties for those businesses that fail to comply with the requirements.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 142, which clarifies what California employers must do to accommodate mothers who need to pump breast milk for their infants, into law in October.

The law also prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees who choose to nurse, and it requires that the women be offered appropriate settings to pump their breast milk.

The law deems "denial of reasonable break time or adequate space to express milk a failure to provide a rest period in accordance with state law."

Employers must provide women with breaks and safe, private lactation spaces other than bathrooms, according to the law. These rooms must be located close to the employee's work area, shielded from view, and free from disruption while in use.

Other requirements include that the designated room must provide a place for a woman to sit, as well as a surface that can accommodate a breast pump and personal items. The space also must have access to electricity or having charging stations, so an employee can operate an electric or battery-powered breast pump.

Additionally, employers also must provide access to a sink with running water and a refrigerator that is appropriate for storing breast milk. A cooler or another appropriate cooling device will suffice if a refrigerator cannot be provided, the law states.

If an employer's policy designates a shared break room or another office that is used for other business purposes, the law requires the space to remain completely private when it is being used for lactation purposes.

Businesses that have fewer than 50 employees who can show that any of the legal requirements would "impose undue hardship" and cause "significant difficulty and expense in consideration to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer's business" may be exempt from this law. If the employer can show that it would impose a hardship, the business needs to take reasonable steps to accommodate a woman by providing use of a room or another space other than a toilet stall.

Finally, the law requires companies to implement a written lactation policy by the first day of 2020. The policy, written copies of which must be given to employees, needs to include instructions on how employees can request lactation accommodations, how employers should respond, and how they can file complaints.

Employers who fail to comply with any of the above requirements face fines of $100 per day.

The California Dental Association offers a sample lactation policy and compliance instructions in its resource library.

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