- A group of plaintiffs has sued New York City, claiming that the city police department (NYPD) engaged in a pattern and practice of refusing to provide nursing mothers with reasonable accommodations such as return-to-work or modified assignments, or the proper time and space to express milk (Teagle, et al. v. City of New York (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2019)).
- The plaintiffs claimed that, since 2007, they have had to express milk in front of other male and female employees, in bathrooms or locker rooms, in their own cars, or stop pumping altogether.
- The plaintiffs also alleged that they were not provided with properly fitted equipment and uniforms (including shirts, pants, belts and bulletproof vests) and that their permanent work assignments were not protected upon their return from maternity leave. They also said NYPD failed to ensure a workplace "free of hostilities, ridicule and shame from coworkers, supervisors, managers and/or executives regarding the rights of nursing mothers."
Federal law and many state laws protect the rights of nursing mothers in the workplace, but employers often fall short in terms of both legal requirements and employee-friendly best practices.
As of 2010, the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) includes a requirement that nursing mothers be given "reasonable" break time to pump for a year following the birth of a child. The employee must have access to a private space, other than a bathroom, that is private and protected from other employees and the public. The law applies only to hourly workers, and the breaks do not need not be paid.
As a best practice, employers should try to provide nursing mothers with, at a minimum, a space with a comfortable chair, a locking door, a table, and an outlet for the breast pump. Free-standing nursing pods may be an option if space is at a premium.
Even with legally compliant breastfeeding policies and facilities in place, a supportive workplace culture is key to ensuring that nursing mothers feel comfortable taking the time and space they are legally entitled to (the NYPD plaintiffs allege they experienced hostility and retaliation once they came back to work).
HR can draft and distribute a lactation policy, train managers about lactation laws and accommodations, and reiterate the company's commitment to supporting new parents as part of its family-friendly practices.