Beginning March 18, 2019, New York City employers with four or more employees will be required to provide lactation rooms to employees upon request. Specifically, under two bills recently passed by New York City Council (Int. No. 879-A and Int. No. 905-A), New York City employers must:

  • Upon request, provide a lactation room and a refrigerator suitable for breast milk storage within reasonable proximity to the employee’s work area
  • Provide a written lactation room policy and notice.

Lactation room requirements

Employers may not designate a restroom as the lactation room. Rather, the room must be (i) a sanitary place (ii) that can be used to express breast milk, and (iii) is shielded from view and free from intrusion. But the requirements do not end there – the room must also have access to an electrical outlet, a chair and a surface for a breast pump or personal items, as well as nearby access to running water. If employers choose to use a multipurpose room as the lactation room, it must be designated as a lactation room only, while being used as such.

If a requested accommodation under this law would impose an undue hardship on an employer (lack of space, lack of resources to convert or create a new room), it must engage in the cooperative dialogue process with the requesting employee, in order to determine whether there is a feasible alternative. Remember – following the cooperative dialogue process, an employer must provide a formal written determination to the requesting employee, granting or denying the request and providing a reason for a denial.

Lactation room written policy

The written policy must be distributed to all employees upon hire and must:

  • State the employee’s right to request a lactation room
  • Specify the process to submit such a request
  • Obligate the employer to respond to an employee’s request within five days
  • Outline a procedure to be used if two or more employees need a lactation room at the same time, and
  • State that the employer will engage in a cooperative dialogue if the request imposes an undue hardship on the employer.

Under the new law, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) in collaboration with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene must develop a model lactation room policy that conforms to these requirements, as well as a model lactation room request form, both of which are to be posted on the CCHR’s website.

Employers should certainly take the time to start thinking about and planning for compliance under these new laws.