Wide angle view over Manhattan towards the Empire State Building, Manhattan, New York City, USA.As many of you have probably heard, late last year, the New York City Council passed two laws that will amend the NYC Human Rights Law to expand the requirements of employers to provide lactation space for breastfeeding employees and to develop lactation policies and processes for employees to request accommodations for nursing. These new laws take effect March 17, 2019, which is right around the corner!

The first law amends the NYC law requiring employers to designate as a lactation room a sanitary space other than a restroom where employees can express breastmilk, shielded from view and free from intrusion. The room must include at least a space to place a breast pump and other personal items, must be near running water, and must have an electrical outlet and a chair. In addition, both the lactation room and a refrigerator suitable for storing breast milk need to be reasonably close to the employees’ work area. When not in use for purposes of expressing milk, the room may be used for other purposes, but the employer is required to notify other employees that the room is given preference for use as a lactation room. If, however, providing a lactation room results in an undue hardship for an employer, the employer is required to engage in a cooperative dialogue with the employee(s) to determine what (if any) other accommodation(s) might be available, and to provide a written final determination to the employee(s) identifying any accommodation(s) that were granted or denied – as when providing accommodations for other protected purposes under NYC law.

These requirements expand on current mandates under the New York State Labor Law to provide reasonable break time to express milk in the workplace for up to three years after childbirth, and to provide a room/location other than a restroom to express milk in private, so they will not require too many changes for many employers, but employers should be aware in case any changes do need to be made.

The second of the two laws requires employers to distribute to all new hires a written policy about the right to request a lactation room and identify a process by which an employee may request use of the room. This process must: specify the way an employee may submit such a request; require the employer to respond within five business days; provide a procedure to follow when two or more individuals need to use the room at the same time; state that the employer shall provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk (per Section 206-c of the New York Labor Law); and state that if the employer cannot provide a lactation space, the employer shall engage in a cooperative dialogue with the employee(s), and provide the employee with a written response that identifies the basis upon which the employer has denied the request. Notably, this new law also requires employers to retain records of requests for a lactation space (including the date of the request, and a description of how the employer resolved the request) for at least three years.

Model policies and request forms are to be made available by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Nevertheless, NYC employers should review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with these new laws.