Bill Expands Civil Rights Protections to Include Breastfeeding
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Senator M. Teresa Ruiz to create stronger employment protections for nursing mothers, and require that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are breastfeeding, was approved yesterday by the Senate. The bill was sent to the governor’s desk.
“It is widely recognized that breast milk is the most nutritious food for an infant and offers a wide range of benefits to the nursing mother and child. New mothers who choose to breastfeed should be protected from discrimination by their employers and given accommodations that allow them to do so in private at their workplace,” said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen).
The bill (S2709) would expand certain civil rights protections under the “Law Against Discrimination” to include breastfeeding and expressing milk. Under the bill it would be a civil rights violation for a worker to be fired or otherwise discriminated against because of breastfeeding or expressing milk during breaks. Unless the employer can demonstrate that accommodating an employee would be an undue hardship on business operations, employers would be required to provide accommodations for a breast feeding employee that includes reasonable break time each day, in a suitable room or other location with privacy, for the employee to express breast milk. The room could not be a toilet stall and should be in close proximity to the work area.
Current law includes pregnancy and related medical conditions for certain civil rights protections; however, breastfeeding and expressing milk are not explicitly included. This change to the “Law Against Discrimination” would ensure clarity that employees who are breastfeeding or expressing milk for their child should have the same protections as a pregnant employee.
“No food offers more health benefits to a baby than breast milk. We must ensure that new mothers returning to work have the ability to breastfeed, and that no woman is harassed fired, or provided restrictive accommodations for expressing milk for their child,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex). “This legislation will make clear that nursing mothers have a right to pump during the workday and that their employers must provide them a suitable space for that purpose.”
Federally, the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to protect breastfeeding employees, and require employers to provide a suitable private space for employees to breastfeed or express milk. However, this is only mandated for employers with 50 or more employees. Those with under 50 employees do not have to comply if they can show that “such requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.”
Senator Weinberg was successful in having a Lactation Room added at the Statehouse last year for nursing mothers, for use by employees and visitors to the complex. The lactation room is located on the 3rd floor of the Legislative State House. The room can be accessed through the door for the women’s restroom.
The Senate approved S2709 by a vote of 35-0. The Assembly approved it by a vote of 70-0 on Dec. 7. The bill would take effect immediately.