Employees’ Right to Breastfeed in the Workplace

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When an employee has a child and returns to work, such brings with it circumstances in which the employee must be able to breastfeed or express breast milk during work hours.  This article attempts to outline the employee’s rights in such circumstances along with the employer’s responsibilities.

Under Connecticut General Statute Section 31-40w, an employee may, at their discretion, express breast milk or breastfeed at the site of their employment during meal or break periods.  To ensure this right, Connecticut law requires that an employer make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to their work area, where the employee can express milk in private.  The private area must be a location other than a toilet stall.

This requirement applies to employers who are defined as any person engaged in business and has one (1) or more employees, including the State and any political subdivision of the State.  The term “employee” is defined as any person engaged in service to an employer in the business of the employer.

While the employer must use “reasonable efforts,” to provide a room or location for the employee, what exactly does the term “reasonable efforts” mean?  Under the law, “reasonable efforts” is defined broadly as any effort that would not impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.  An “undue hardship” is found to be any action that requires significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to factors such as the size of the business, its financial resources and the nature and structure of the employer’s operation.

An employer’s failure to utilize reasonable efforts or properly provide a private area for the employee is a violation of the statute and could subject the employer to liability in terms of fines and possible damages.  It is also explicitly deemed impermissible for the employer to discriminate or take any adverse employment action against any eligible employee simply because such an employee has elected to exercise their rights to seek the private site for breastfeeding or milk expression.  Any such discrimination could further expose an employer to fines and/or damages.

If you are an employee who believes that you have been denied your right for a private place for breastfeeding or have been retaliated against, or if you are an employer seeking to establish appropriate policies for the creation of such breastfeeding location, please call the experienced employment counsel at Harlow, Adams & Friedman, P.C. today at 203-878-0661 for a free consultation.

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