Law requires further accommodations for mothers who breastfeed – Daily News

on Dec13
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A new law that goes into effect Jan. 1 will require California employers to sharply enhance accommodations at the workplace for mothers who are nursing.

California already has a series of regulations that give women who are lactating adequate break time and a private space to pump milk. Some of these related laws have been been on the books since 2002.

Enhanced requirements

But Senate Bill 142, introduced by State Sen. Wiener, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 10, requires employers to provide more than just a room for lactation. It must be clean and free of hazardous materials, with running water, access to a refrigerator and a clean surface on which women can place a breast pump. It must also have an electrical outlet and a place to sit.

The room must be free of any possible intrusion, with no other uses allowed during lactation.

Currently, state law does require that a room for pumping breast milk be set aside and it can not be the restroom, but it does not mandate any of those added accommodations.

SB 142, modeled after a law in San Francisco, also requires employers to give women a work break “each time such employee has need to (pump) milk.” Currently, women who are nursing must use their regularly-scheduled break periods.

A short window for compliance

All of these requirements must be written into companies’ employment policies and that will be a challenge as Jan. 1 approaches, said Andrew Hoag, a partner at the Los Angeles office of law firm Fisher Phillips. And the fact that there was a window of only three months following its passage has probably exacerbated that problem, he said.

“For large employers, they might already have many of these policies in place, but we’re trying to get the word out to as many as we can,” said Hoag, who specializes in employment law. “They have to get it in writing and distributed to employees who want to consider breastfeeding in the future.”

But some components of the new law will be a challenge, Hoag said, such as the requirement for a sink with running water. Reconfiguring a workplace to provide a room with plumbing often isn’t easy.

Exceptions to the law

There are exceptions to SB 142, including a provision that allows employers in multi-tenant buildings to share space with other companies if necessary. An employer with space limitations or with financial and operational constraints must provide a private room near the person’s work space without the added sink and refrigerator.

An employer with fewer than 50 workers can apply for an exemption if it can be proved that it would cause financial hardship.

There are also exemptions for agricultural workers, but Hoag said there are other types of jobs that could have been included. He cited large factories and distribution centers with restrooms and break rooms that aren’t located near employee workspaces.

Challenges for large facilities

Many of the warehouses, predominantly located in the Inland Empire, have more than a million square feet of space. “I think it’s going to be quite difficult for employers whose workers traverse over large spaces,” Hoag said.

The new law is likely to affect how future workplaces are designed, said Joseph Ortiz, a partner with Riverside-based law firm Best Best & Krieger, He said SB 142 amplifies laws passed in the last two years that had the theme that “you can’t shove mom into the bathroom.” Like Hoag, he is spending time now informing businesses of the ramifications.

Ortiz said that in the future, workplaces will be designed with a room set aside for lactation because the new law provides clarity. “Employers like to show that they take care of mom in the workforce,” he said.

Roy Paulson, owner of Paulson Manufacturing, a Temecula company that makes plastic face shields mostly for law enforcement, said that he has already set up a lactation room. He had planned to so before SB 142 was signed because more than half of the factory’s 100 employees are women.

“We set it up this month, but we would have done it regardless of the law,” Paulson said.

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