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Backgrounder: New York City's new lactation law

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Backgrounder: New York City's new lactation law

Any new mom who has navigated the return to work while still nursing a little one knows that sinking feeling. Searching for the quietest breast pump on the market, in order to pump stealthily in a small cubicle with colleagues 3 feet away. Expressing milk while perched on the edge of a toilet seat. Pumping in a closet next to the janitorial supplies, praying no one walks in. So we’re breathing a collective sigh of relief about New York CIty’s new lactation room law, which went into effect in March 2019. #MindrMama and employment litigator Alex Berke shared her thoughts this new law and the impacts it may have on those of us working-while-pumping.

New York City recently passed a new law that provides clarity to employers and employees regarding what rights mothers have to express milk (most often through pumping) in the workplace. Berke-Weiss Law PLLC is a woman-owned employment law firm in New York. In our practice, we meet employers who are trying to comply with the law, and women who are being discriminated against by their employers. Often, pregnant women and new moms find that their performance is questioned after they announce their pregnancy, or have trouble being accommodated to provide care and sometimes even food for their children who are at home.

What is the new NYC lactation law, and when did/does it come into effect?

New York City’s new lactation law has two components: (1) creating requirements for lactation rooms for employers with four or more employees and (2) requiring employers to create a policy that alerts employees to the existence of the lactation room, and includes the process for requesting lactation-related accommodations.

New York State requires that a lactation room is provided to employees who express milk for up to three years after birth. New York City now joins New York State in offering protections to breastfeeding mothers. 

The NYC law went into effect on March 17, 2019.  Now, employers in NYC with four or more employees must provide a lactation room that allows mothers to express milk shielded from view and free from intrusion. The statewide law encouraged employers to provide specific amenities, but the NYC law now requires the lactation room to include at least:

·       An electrical outlet

·       A surface to place the breast pump and other personal items;

·       Nearby access to running water, and;

·       A refrigerator suitable for breast milk storage.

New York City has released model policies for employers, including a model request form. This process offers guidance for how employers should handle multiple requests from employees who may need to use the designated lactation room at the same time, an outline of the timeframe and process for employers to respond to employee’s requests for accommodation, and an overview of employee’s rights to be paid during the time they use to express milk.

Is this development a big deal for moms in NYC? Why/why not?

This development allows moms to clearly understand their rights relating to expressing milk at work, and provides a way for employees who are having trouble in their workplace exercising their rights to discuss the issues with their employer. Although employers already were obligated to provide some of these accommodations, the new law lays out specifics about what steps employees and employers need to take. The model policies released by the City also go into detail about what is required, and can serve as a useful for resource for employees and employers alike.

There are model lactation room policies that accompany the law -- what do these policies have to say, and how binding are they on employers?

These policies can be found here and can be adapted to meet the specific needs of employers as written. The law does not state specific penalties for not having a policy or a lactation room, but a violation can still create employer liability. Employers who violate the law may be liable for punitive damages, emotional distress, back pay and front pay if there’s a finding of discrimination. In short, if an employer does not have the appropriate policies or lactation rooms, affected employees may have a legal claim against the employer for discrimination, unless the employer can demonstrate that it is an “undue hardship” to provide a room.

What (if any) changes can moms expect to see in their workplaces as a result of this new law and the accompanying policies?

Moms should expect their employers to provide a lactation room policy, a lactation room request form, and that the employers are meeting all of the lactation room requirements. And, moms should expect to have more conversations about what they need to express milk at work. However, some employers still may have an out in providing lactation rooms that meet the standards set by this law. Under the law, employers can say that meeting the lactation room requirements is so challenging that they pose an “undue hardship.” There are standards for what makes something an undue hardship, including the nature and cost of an accommodation, the impact of providing the accommodation on the operation of the facility, or the financial resources of the employer. For example, if the employer only has a space available that is not near a refrigerator, the annoyance of purchasing a mini-fridge would not necessarily be an undue hardship. But, if the space is the only space available and would require re-wiring to accommodate a nearby fridge, that may be considered an undue hardship. If the employer thinks that an accommodation would be an undue hardship, they still need to have a conversation with the employee about other alternatives, and should work to come up with some accommodation that meets the employee’s needs.

What can we expect to see happening next in this space in the workplace and beyond?

When the City implements new laws, we can expect an education campaign to inform people of their new rights. The New York City Human Rights Commission will work on enforcement. We should expect to see more situations where people advocate for their rights in the workplace and seek redress if they are not being met. We anticipate continued efforts by women advocating for more nurturing and friendly lactation spaces, access to having breast milk shipped home from work trips, and insurance coverage for breast pumps that meet their needs.

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Mamas we love: Meaghan Murphy, Good Housekeeping

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Mamas we love: Meaghan Murphy, Good Housekeeping

As Executive Editor at Good Housekeeping Magazine, reaching an audience of 18.4 million people, and mom to ‘Irish Triplets’ Charlet (8), James (6) and Brooks (3), #MindrMama Meaghan Murphy knows a thing or two about staying busy. We caught up with this mama mogul to find out how priorities and positivity help to keep her head above water, why she believes a made bed means a quiet mind, and how a dinner invitation from J-Lo could lead to all the rules being thrown out the window.

You've said you're always guided by what's best for your family, who you call Team Murphy. Talk us through the ways family drives your decision-making, even when you're on deadline.

My motto is “family over everything” — and that requires creating some very distinct boundaries. For starters, I’m fiercely protective of my mornings and only work late two to three nights a month, when I have to because we’re closing an issue.

I front-load the day with quality kid time. After the kids wake up, we have a no TV/no devices rule and instead read a couple chapters of Captain Underpants (it’s the one series they all agree upon!). We eat breakfast, pack lunches, make beds, brush teeth… and argue over outfits. When the babysitter, arrives I power shower with just enough time to walk my little guy to preschool before hitting the train. I don’t schedule meetings before 10:30AM with the exception of a TV appearance so I have this Team Murphy time.

Once I’m at work, I’m there to work and I say no to things that aren’t work-related… a lot. The joke around the office is: “Don’t ask Meaghan for drinks because there’s a zero percent chance she’ll say yes.” It’s not that I don’t like my co-workers or business contacts, or that I don’t like to be social, but with an hour-plus commute to the ‘burbs, one drink means I miss what my family calls Highlights (a rundown of what made my kids say “YAY” that day) and the nightly tuck-in — and I need those things! A dinner request from JLo and A-Rod might be the only thing that would keep me in the city past 7PM!

As Executive Editor of Good Housekeeping, you're in a high profile and high pressure role. What do you do to look after yourself and stay fully charged? 

I’ve got a pretty consistent routine that keeps me operating at full battery. Exercise is key! I’ve found the only way to fit in fitness is to do it at the crack of dawn with my #goodvibetribe of like-minded workout buddies. We cheer each other on and make each other accountable. I’m at the gym by 5:30am and back by 7am, but I swear I feel like I’m going for drinks when I leave the house! Our exercise routine is pretty set: Extreme Boxing at POE on Mondays; Tuesdays it’s hot yoga at Home Power Yoga; FireBeat hot barre on Wednesdays; SLT Thursdays and The Blast (interval workout) on Fridays.

There’s also lots of “extras” that give me a charge: things like matching my mani to the cover of Good Housekeeping each month or over-decorating my house for every perceivable holiday!

You recently launched "The Yay List," recommending that people take the time to pay attention to the moments of joy that come up in any given day. Why do you think practicing positivity in this way is important?

Your brain might not be a muscle, but you have to train it like one to see the good. The more you actively and purposefully seek out the positive, the more easily you begin to automatically default to the positive, noticing all the awesome things around you. It doesn’t mean you no longer perceive the negative, it just prevents you from dwelling on it. The good vibes take over.

What is something you think needs to change about the way our culture treats parenthood? 

My husband didn’t carry our kids for nine months or push them out, but he is 50% responsible for their existence and their livelihood. Yet, I often feel like society puts more onus on the mom for everything. Somehow it’s supposed to be my job to: organize the play date; volunteer to be the class Mystery Reader; RSVP for the birthday party and buy the gift; etc. etc. etc. even though my husband and I both have full-time jobs. I love doing (most of) those things, but my life only works because I have an equal partner — a teammate who cooks, walks the dog, signs my son James up for karate and more. I applaud companies like Estee Lauder that now have 6 months paid leave for both moms and dads – it’s a start in the right direction!

What are your favorite go-to strategies for maintaining an organized home even amidst the chaos of working parent life?

Make the beds! Studies show that people who do are happier and more productive. When I leave the house with at least that one thing done I feel calmer, more in control and ready for the chaos ahead.

My #momlife hack is Beddy’s, zip-up bedding that makes it ridiculously simple for the kids to make their own beds. Also, if you can, hire help. Biweekly we have someone tackle the bathrooms, vacuum, dust…things I weirdly enjoy doing, but have to take a backseat to family time. You’ve gotta learn to outsource to the extent that you can!

Meaghan Murphy has been in the media for 20+ years. She got her start at YM when she was 19, after winning an essay contest on overcoming adversity, and being spotlighted on an NBC special. Two years later she was one of the founding editors of Teen People, an on-air lifestyle correspondent for MTV, worked on the creative team at Victoria’s Secret, helping to launch the PINK line, moved on to a senior editor role at Cosmopolitan before heading to SELF, where she was the fitness director and Deputy editor for nearly 9 years. Meaghan is now the Executive Editor at Good Housekeeping. She married her brother’s best friend who is 4 years her junior and they live a happy life in the Jersey suburb of Westfield where Meaghan was named Chief Spirit Officer, unofficially renaming the town Bestfield.

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The perks and pains of working remotely

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The perks and pains of working remotely

Many of us have dreamed of giving up that hectic commute and the morning rush of coffee to go, and a recent Gallup study found that more Americans are working remotely than ever before. In search of workplace flexibility, #MINDRMAMA Deanna Neiers decided to switch both her career and industry, leaving her coworkers in the beauty world in order to work remotely, from home, for a nonprofit in another city. We asked Deanna, Director of Northeast and Central Regions for Global Impact, to share her experiences as the sole NYC-based employee of her organization. She talks us through her journey - from the perks (like taking calls in PJs) to the challenges (like sometimes feeling isolated and missing out on learning from co-located coworkers.)

After working in the beauty industry for nearly a decade, I knew it was time to make a change. The world of nonprofits had been calling to me for a while and it slowly began to eat away at me. I knew what I had to do. So, I left my job with a luxury beauty brand and my office in the Meatpacking District to work for a nonprofit. What this also meant was that I became a remote worker. I took a job with Global Impact, a nonprofit dedicated to building partnerships and raising resources to help the world’s most vulnerable people. Their headquarters are located in Alexandria, Virginia and they do not operate an office in New York City, where I am based.

When I took the job, I was newly married but without kids. It was a big contrast going from lunches with my boss at top restaurants in New York City and a beautifully designed creative office space... to a tiny spare bedroom in my apartment that would serve as my office, all alone.

Like any work environment, there are perks and pains to working remotely. During my first week of remote work at Global Impact, I could not believe the amount of extra time I had in my life. From packing my lunch, picking out clothing and getting ready, to commuting, and getting settled in at my desk with a cup of coffee - I never realized what a lengthy process it was! My new working situation - specifically the lack of going into the office - translated to nearly 3 hours of extra time a day for “real” work. I also found that my ability to concentrate improved. There wasn't that noisy desk neighbor who is always on the phone or rolling their chair back to talk to you. I could complete my projects very quickly and efficiently.

I also realized that, working remotely, I would now have a lot more control over my workday. I’m not tied to a set schedule of hours where I’m expected to be in the office even if I have finished current projects and am all caught up. In many offices, its taboo to just walk out and leave for the day when you are done working. Working remotely allows you the flexibility to be a bit more in control of your own schedule. When I worked in an office, as soon as I got home, I would immediately change into comfortable clothing. What a luxury it is to now be able to spend each day in comfort! 

While it is nice to be in control of my time and schedule (and my clothing), I found that there were also a number of real challenges to my new working set-up. First, since I was taking on a new style of working as a remote employee, my learning curve was incredibly steep, especially because I had also joined a new sector. Without colleagues co-located with me, I missed out on the ability to join meetings and glean knowledge from conversations overheard around the office. I also was not able to quickly learn the terminology people around me used. While my new team was great about doing Skype video calls and offering as much training as possible, I still found it very challenging to learn a completely new business from afar.

I also felt a little isolated and longed for the camaraderie—and maybe even missed that noisy desk neighbor a bit. It’s hard to build relationships with people over instant messenger and email. Working with a group of almost strangers felt a lot different than the close relationships I had while working at my previous office. And I missed the little things: the group birthday cupcakes, the leftover catering that we could help ourselves to, and the bonding over the huge snowstorm that we all had to trudge through to get into the office. 

Even with all the challenges, I would say the benefits of working remotely grew exponentially after I became a mother. I chose to have in-home childcare so that I could be with my babies all day, and I feel very fortunate to have what I consider to be a dream situation. I get up with my children in the morning and spend time with them until my nanny arrives at 9 am. And then I close the door and go to work. I can pop my head out any time to see them and we often eat lunch together. I never feel guilty or like I’m missing out, because I’m there all day.

This was a total game changer as a breastfeeding mother. I rarely pump and instead just block 15 minutes off of my calendar throughout the day to nurse my baby. For me, there’s nothing more valuable than that.

It’s also very comforting to be around when they’re sick or hurt. I am always available to run them over to the doctor or come out and give them a quick hug when they need me. At the end of the day, I sign off and a moment later am back spending time with my kids, instead of rushing home and missing out on more time together.   

No working situation is perfect, and working remotely is not for everyone. For some, the disadvantages of being physically far from your coworkers and team may outweigh the advantages. Some people may feel incredibly lonely or find it hard to remain motivated every day. But for me, I would even go as far as to say that my work from home gig has made me a better mother. I still get tons of time with my kids, but I get to tune into work that I am incredibly passionate about. I genuinely feel part of something bigger - and my work for a nonprofit helps me feel that I contribute to making the world around us a better place. As society becomes more open to the flexible workplace, I think things will get better for remote workers. For now, though, I will relish every second of the extra hours every day I get to spend with my babies. There’s nothing more important to me than that. 

Deanna Neiers works as the Director, Northeast and Central Regions for Global Impact from her home on the Upper East Side of New York City.  She lives with her husband, two kids (son Jack, 2 and daughter Sorin, 1) and cat George. 

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