Lactation in the workplace

This week’s question comes from Ana in San Francisco, who writes:

Q: I am ending my maternity leave next week. I would like to send an email to my manager to ask about my employer’s policy on lactation breaks and request a private room where I can express milk for my baby. However, I am worried that I may be asking for too much since the company is small (only 25 employees in my office, but approximately 75 in the Bay Area) and I already took a lot of time off after giving birth for my recovery and for baby bonding. I do not have my own office and I do not want to pump in a bathroom stall, as I am worried that it would be unsanitary. I heard San Francisco has extra protections for nursing mothers. What are my rights?

A: Thank you for your question, Ana, and congratulations on your baby. I am glad you were able to take sufficient time after giving birth for your own recovery and for baby bonding. You are correct: San Francisco increased protections for nursing mothers and expanded the existing requirements for San Francisco employers under federal and California law beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Under the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act (which applies to business of 50 or more employees), employers must provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for one year following the birth of a child in a private location other than a bathroom that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public. California Labor Code requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate employees who want to express milk for their baby and to make reasonable efforts to provide the employee with a room, other than a toilet stall, in close proximity to the employee’s work area.

Under San Francisco’s Lactation in the Workplace Ordinance (which applies to nearly all San Francisco employers, as there are no minimum employee threshold that may exempt smaller employers from coverage) the lactation location must also:

– Be available as needed

– Be safe, clean and free of toxic hazardous materials

– Have a place to sit, a table or desk or surface on which to place a breast pump and other personal items

– Have access to electricity, a sink with running water and a refrigerator

The lactation location may be designated for other purposes, but employees must be notified that lactation use takes priority over other uses for the room.

Moreover, the employer must maintain a written lactation accommodation policy that includes a statement of the right to request a lactation accommodation and the process for requesting accommodation. It must also state that, if in response to a request for accommodation, the employer does not provide the accommodation, the employer must provide a written response that identifies the basis for denial of the request, and a notice that retaliation in response to a request is prohibited. This policy must be distributed upon hire, included in any employee policy handbook and must be provided to any employee who asks about or requests pregnancy or parental leave.

To protect your rights, contact San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, which is responsible for enforcing the Ordinance or consult with an attorney. You may also be interested in the Pregnancy Rights and Job Protection Workshop that the Dolan Law Firm will be hosting with the Filipino Bar Association of California on March 10 from 10:30 a.m. to noon. This free workshop will cover your workplace rights during and after pregnancy. Topics will include:

– How much leave am I entitled to?

– Can I be forced to use my paid time off during my leave?

– Am I entitled to paid leave?

– Am I entitled to an accommodation if there are some job duties I can’t perform?

– Can I be forced to take an early leave of absence if I’m still able to do my job?

– Can my employer stop my health benefits while I’m on leave?

– If I’m breastfeeding, can I take additional breaks when I return to work?

For more information or to RSVP, visit http://sfex.news/2EWqsnq.

Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to help@dolanlawfirm.com.

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