A Victory for Working Mothers

By Erin Kodilanen

A new labor law states that as of August 15, 2007 nursing mothers may express breast milk at work. This allows pumping, not breast feeding your child at work, up to, but not exceeding three years after the child’s birth. Article 206-c of the New York State labor law states:

“206-c. Right of nursing mothers to express breast milk. An employer shall provide reasonable unpaid break time or permit an employee to use paid break time or meal time each day to allow an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for up to three years following child birth. The employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, where an employee can express milk in privacy. No employer shall discriminate in any way against an employee who chooses to express breast milk in the work place. 2. This act shall take effect immediately.”

What this means is a nursing mother may use any break already provided to her by her employer, but may not be forced to do so, additional breaks for the purpose of expressing breast milk must be provided by the employer if the employee requests them. The length and frequency of such breaks must be agreed upon by both parties and if necessary, scheduled prior to the mothers return to work. The employer is under no obligation to create paid breaks for this purpose.

A working mother who is nursing and intends to utilize this new law can choose to use vacation or other leave balances to cover the unpaid breaks she takes, she should check with her employer to see which of her leave balances she can apply, sick pay generally has to be taken for the whole day, where as personal or vacation time may be able to be applied in smaller 15-30min. increments. Depending on the companies leave policies taking extra unpaid breaks may alter her ability to earn vacation and/or sick time off and it could also alter employment status; from full-time down to part-time flex or part-time flex to part-time defined if she does not use accumulated leave time for this purpose. If she chose to use leave time for the unpaid breaks she would still be considered to be at full pay and therefore her employment status would not change.

As for a location to express breast milk at work, a nursing mother may be asked to go farther out of her way for greater privacy. The time it takes to get from the work station to the decided location and back is also included in the break time.

It may be that the mother works at a position which requires someone to relieve her for her to leave, if this is the case, she may be asked to postpone her arranged break for a short while as someone is found to relieve her or to give her time to finish what she is doing before she leave i.e. in a patient care type environment or if she is helping a client/customer.

The law states that there are no limits on how many of these breaks a nursing mother may take in a given day, and that these breaks apply not only to regular shifts, but to any kind of overtime as well. This is why it is necessary that an agreement to the number of breaks per shift or hour(s) worked is made before the mother returns to work, so that both she and her employer can make the necessary arrangements.

What makes this such a huge step forward is the fact that New York is the most recent of only 14 states which make legal allowances for nursing mothers in the workplace. So far only California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Texas have any such rights on the books. The down side to NY’s new legislation is it’s one of the only states that doesn’t specify in the law itself that the designated location can’t be a restroom.

This is a protected right of nursing mothers in the workplace. The difficulty of finding space or coverage can not be used to either deny this benefit or terminate an employee who wishes to use this benefit.

Any nursing mother who wishes to make use of this benefit should contact their employer, Human Resources department or the attendance department at their place of employment.