Backgrounder: New York City's new lactation law


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.


Friday Five


Friday Five

Happy Friday, Mindr fam! Here’s what you missed this week:

  1. This Tuesday, April 2nd, was Equal Pay Day, a symbolic day in the U.S. that marks the date into 2019 that women had to work to earn as much money as men earned in 2018. April 2nd is the date calculated based on all women's earnings, but it's crucial to know that Black Women’s Equal Pay Day won't happen until August 22th, followed by Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day on September 23th, and Latinas’ Equal Pay Day on November 20th. Check out Womansplaining the Pay Gap, in which the gender editor of the New York Times, Jessica Bennett, demystifies commonly misunderstood aspects of the gender pay gap.

  2. On Equal Pay Day, Clif Bar & Company pledged to pay each of the women on the U.S. Women’s World Cup team $31,250, the alleged difference between the bonuses of the men’s and women’s national teams.

  3. Also on Tuesday, Lori Lightfoot, a mother of 1, was elected to become the first black woman and openly gay person to serve as the Mayor of Chicago.

  4. Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has gained national attention for leading with empathy in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. What people may not know is that globally she is also the second elected leader to give birth while in office, and the first ever leader of a nation to take maternity leave.

  5. Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson announced yesterday that she is expecting. The former gymnast has helped to demystify miscarriage by openly documenting her journey through her first pregnancy and miscarriage last year.


 Mamas we love: Cara Zelas on teaching meditation to children


Mamas we love: Cara Zelas on teaching meditation to children

With everything we juggle in this working parent life, taking a few moments out of the day to attain some Zen never goes astray. But figuring out how to access real calm can be difficult even for us adults, let alone for the little ones we are hoping to guide along their path too. #MindrMama, educator and children’s author Cara Zelas has created a gorgeous new resource for teaching meditation to children, called ‘Brain Vacation: A Guide to Meditation.’ We caught up with Cara to hear about the process of writing her newest kids’ book, and her broader ‘Big World of Little Dude’ series for teaching kindness to children.

Meditation can be such an important outlet for all of us. What inspired you to bring this tool directly to the kiddos?

When creating the Big World of Little Dude book series and curriculum, I wanted to give children, parents and teachers practical tools to nurture social and emotional growth in a fun and engaging way. As a teacher or parent, you have strategies and approaches to guide your child to help them understand their emotions, how to process information and navigate the world around them. Mediation is a tool for your toolkit. It can support emotional regulation, and help your child find moments of internal peace and quiet.

What advice do you have for parents wanting to teach their children about meditation and other self-care tools?

Start in small increments, and make it fun and part of your daily routine.

Begin with getting to know your breath. You can use tools such as bubbles or pin wheels, since both require deep breaths, in and out. Ask your child to pick out their favorite teddy, lay on the bed or yoga mat, and place the teddy on their tummy. Watch the teddy rise and fall with each breath in and out. Can they make the teddy go higher by taking deeper breaths? As part of the bedtime ritual and routine, begin with 30 seconds and gradually increase the time, to close your eyes together, and just breathe. Placing hands on tummies can help with keeping still and provides direct input from the hands to feel the breath going in and out of your body.

Listening to a guided meditation can also be helpful. They can be found online for free, or you can listen to the Big World of Little Dude Sleep Meditation here!

My favorite self-care tool is to be in nature. It is simple, it is free, and taking a nature walk with your children can be an opportunity for conversation with little distraction from technology and toys.   

Tell us about your journey from first coming up with the idea for the Big World of Little Dude to becoming a published author?

Little Dude is my dog. He and I volunteer with The Good Dog Foundation as a therapy team. We volunteer at schools and hospitals in Manhattan. The experience of volunteering with Little Dude taught me about the meaning of true kindness and empathy and how a small act of kindness can have a ripple effect.

My background is in education, and I had an overwhelming feeling that I wanted to share the ideas of kindness and empathy with children. I was teaching at a wonderful school, West Side Montessori, and they allowed me to bring Little Dude into the classroom and teach the children about being kind to others. This inspired me to write a book, so these ideas could be shared with many children.

At the same time, I began to discover an unmet need in school curriculum, that social and emotional skills were not being explicitly taught. We teach our children numbers, letters, art, music – why not teach social and emotional skills in a formal way that can be assessed and measured? This lead me to write a social and emotional literacy-based curriculum. 

Writing is a very self-driven pursuit. How do you stay motivated?

I love being creative and using my imagination, this is what drives me. When I read my stories to children and see their faces light up, their eyes engaged and eager to see the next page turn, this propels me forward to continue to write.

Writing tends to be a solo activity, it is about making the time, with intention, to sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I have different tactics that help me with the writing process so it does not feel overwhelming. I go in baby steps. I leave the work to sit and then return with fresh eyes. It is a process.

The new series are books you can read and sing and I work with an amazing musician. Collaborating in the writing process has been life-changing. We click, the words flow and we have a lot of laughs in the process. 

Where do you find community as you progress this self-driven work?

Finding different communities to feel nurtured and supported has been the biggest game changer for my business in the last year. I belong to the co-working space The Wing, and it feels like I am working in a beehive, with amazing queen bees buzzing, hustling and taking over the world. It is a very motivating environment to work in. The Big World of Little Dude curriculum will be part of enrichment programming for The Wing’s new child-centered space, The Little Wing, which I am super excited about!

HeyMama is a fierce community of mamas and it is wonderful to know an army of amazing women, who you can reach out to for guidance, advice and support. Female Founders Collective is helping to identify women run businesses, so consumers and clients know that your business is female founded. And Mindr! I love being able to attend events, with my daughter, with other mother's and engage with learning. Knowledge is power and learning should never cease. 

What’s one big objective you have for 2019? 

To see Big World of Little Dude as a mixed medium video series, a combination of puppets (puppets are wonderful teaching tool for young children), live actors and animation.  

Cara Zelas teaches kindness to children all around the world. She is an author and educator originally from Sydney, Australia and now living in New York City with her family and therapy dog, Little Dude. Cara and Little Dude visit hospitals and schools throughout New York City, where they deliver kindness and support to those in need. Little Dude has taught Cara and countless children that being kind to others is contagious.