Any woman who returns to work after a pregnancy understands how challenging it can be. For mothers who choose to breastfeed, returning to work presents an additional layer of complexity. Figuring out how, when and where to express breast milk requires the cooperation of the employer, who all too often does not understand its legal obligations to assist the mother returning to work and provide reasonable accommodations to breastfeed or express milk during work hours. Understanding your rights respecting laws to support lactating women while at work can be instrumental to continued breastfeeding success following the return to work.
In 2018, New Jersey became the 28th state to enact protections for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. Former Governor Chris Christie signed into law protections for breastfeeding employees who wish to express milk at work. Effective January 8, 2018, the law provides protections and accommodations for employees who breastfeed and wish to pump in the workplace. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination now specifically includes “breastfeeding” as a protected class which makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the basis of her breastfeeding status. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who they know or should know breastfeeds or who needs to express milk at work for their newborn child.
New Jersey employees have a right to express breast milk at work so long as it does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. The state law now requires employers to provide their employees reasonable breaks every day during which they can pump milk. Employers must further provide employees with a private place in close proximity to her work area where the employee can pump milk. A toilet stall is specifically excluded as a private place to breastfeed or express milk at work.
It is unlawful to discriminate against a woman for breastfeeding or needing to express breastmilk. An employee cannot be penalized for requesting or using breastfeeding accommodations. The law does not restrict the duration for which a mother has a right to express milk. The law further does not dictate the frequency or length of time an employee may spend expressing breastmilk. The law does require that the time spent expressing breastmilk be “reasonable.” While breaks to express breastmilk are not required to be paid, if the employer provides paid break time and the employee chooses to express milk during that break, then that break during which the employee expresses milk must also be paid.
Prior to the 2018 amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, women who wished to breastfeed or express milk at work may have been able to do so under federal law. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s 2010 Amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers who employ more than 50 employees are obligated to provide breastfeeding accommodations to employees who were non-exempt from receiving overtime pay and must continue to provide the accommodation for up to one year after giving birth. The amendments to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination do not have these restrictions. Under New Jersey state breastfeeding law, all New Jersey employers, regardless of size, must provide reasonable accommodations to employees who breastfeed. Also, breastfeeding accommodations must be provided to all employees, not just those who are non-exempt from receiving overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. For these reasons, the New Jersey law concerning breastfeeding is viewed as one of the countries strongest breastfeeding laws in the nation.
Continuing to breastfeed while returning to work presents its own challenges. Luckily for New Jersey employees, the law now prohibits employers from acting unreasonably in response to a request for reasonable accommodations and refusing to allow employees to breastfeed or express breast milk at work.