Working Moms Rejoice! Improved Lactation Accommodations Will Be Required Throughout California

In June 2017, San Francisco enacted a groundbreaking ordinance that requires employers to provide lactating employees with reasonable breaks and a safe, clean space to pump breast milk. The ordinance acknowledged the health benefits and importance of breast feeding to both children and lactating mothers. The ordinance also prohibited employers from retaliating against women who attempted to exercise their lactation rights and provided enforcement procedures. However, the ordinance only applied to employees who worked in San Francisco.

Although California has had basic “lactation accommodation” requirements since 2002, earlier this month, the legislature enacted an amendment to the Labor Code to provide lactation rights, similar to those enacted in San Francisco, to employees throughout the state. The changes to the law provide that a lactating employee is permitted a “reasonable amount” of break time to express breast milk for her child, each time she needs to do so, as well as a private room to express breast milk.

Even prior to these amendments, employers were supposed to provide a room other than the bathroom for an employee to express breast milk. The changes to the law reiterate that the room shall not be the bathroom and also sets forth several additional requirements including that the room must: (1) be safe, clean, and free of hazardous materials, (2) contain a surface to place a pump and personal items, (3) have a place to sit, and (4) have access to electricity or alternative devices (i.e. extension cords or charging stations). In addition, an employer must provide a sink and refrigerator (or other “cooling device” if a refrigerator cannot be provided) for storing breast milk.

Like the San Francisco ordinance, the new lactation law prohibits an employer from discriminating against or retaliating against an employee who exercises her rights under the law. It also provides for enforcement by the California Labor Commissioner, who may issue citations and impose civil penalties of $100 per day for each day that an employee is denied reasonable break time or adequate space to express milk. In addition, if an employer denies reasonable break time or adequate space to pump, that denial will be deemed a violation of the wage and hour law. Employers must also develop and implement policies regarding lactation accommodations.

It is important to note that employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from the requirements of the new law if they can demonstrate that a requirement would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense. However, we hope the enforcing authorities scrutinizes any claims of undue hardship carefully.

The new law goes in to effect on January 1, 2020 and is an important step toward gender equity in the workplace. Providing sufficient time, and safe and sanitary location for mothers to express breast milk is a significant step to help infants and the mothers health, and will help keep more women in the workforce.

Jean Krasilnikoff