New NYC Law Expands Legal Rights for Nursing Mothers

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

On Thursday, August 11, 2016, Mayor Bill De Blasio signed into law a bill requiring a variety of New York City facilities to provide a lactation room for nursing mothers.  Facilities that now must provide a lactation room to the public include city job centers, the offices of the Administration for Children’s Services, and centers operated by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, among others.  These rooms must be equipped with a chair, an electrical outlet, and access to running water.

This new law is intended to provide protection for women who are harassed or retaliated against for nursing their children or otherwise expressing breast milk.  The law signed on Thursday complements several other laws passed by New York City protecting nursing women; two of the more significant existing laws are New York Civil Rights Law § 79, which protects a woman’s right to breastfeed in public, and New York State Labor Law § 206-c, which requires employers to provide time and space for nursing women to express milk.  While New York State was at the vanguard on this issue when it passed the above laws in 1994 and 2007, respectively, federal law has since caught up; in 2010, Congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (as part of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare”) to include a provision requiring employers to provide breaks and space for recent mothers to express breast milk.

Many women face significant difficulties in the workplace when they become pregnant.  Even though city, state, and federal laws prohibit pregnancy discrimination in employment, many women still face employers who doubt their ability to work while pregnant or who do not want to deal with handling maternity leave.

After handling problems at work, the ordeal of childbirth, and all of the stresses that come with a new infant, being able to express milk should not be another source of anxiety.  Many women who intend to return to work still want to raise their babies on breast milk; this often requires time and space at work to express milk to bring home.  Employees are often hesitant to ask for any accommodation from their employer, but, as per New York State Labor Law § 206-c and the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers are obligated to provide certain accommodations for nursing mothers.  Employers may not retaliate against an employee for requesting the accommodations to which they are entitled under these provisions.

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work for being pregnant, taking maternity leave, or breastfeeding, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.