On behalf of our member companies that provide 1 million jobs and make NJBIA the largest statewide business association in the nation, I write to you in opposition of Assembly Bill No. 795, which revises the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to require all employers to provide paid breaks, job restructuring, and modified work schedules to breastfeeding employees for as long as an employee desires. This legislation goes far beyond providing workplace accommodations and creates an indefinite mandate on New Jersey’s business community.
NJBIA has consistently been a strong advocate for helping working mothers of young children remain in the workforce, especially as our state recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, as evidenced by our continual support of expanding childcare access for New Jersey parents. We appreciate the sponsors’ intent; however, this legislation goes far beyond accommodating and supporting mothers and places unprecedented burdens on the business community that are not seen in other states.
First, this bill’s requirement that all breaks be paid at the employee’s regular rate of compensation can go far beyond current federal wage and hour standards and an employer’s individual break policy. Only three states in the nation (Georgia, Illinois and Minnesota) mandate that breastfeeding breaks be paid at the regular rate of compensation or prohibit employers from reducing pay for time spent expressing milk. According to the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition, an average woman may need 15-20 minutes to express milk, plus additional time for cleaning, set up and storage of pumping equipment and breast milk, which can total a typical break time of 30 minutes. Breastfeeding employees may require two to three breaks in a typical 8-hour shift that could add up to an 1-1 ½ hours of time spent not completing job duties for which an employer must compensate a breastfeeding employee. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination provisions seek to ensure that no employee is treated in a “manner less favorable than the treatment of other persons not affected” by breastfeeding. This legislation goes beyond ensuring no employee faces less favorable treatment. The bill would make New Jersey an outlier in this space and add to our reputation of being a state with heavy-handed mandates on the business community.
Additionally, this legislation requires businesses to provide modified work schedules and job restructuring as part of a breastfeeding accommodation. This language is ambiguous and has the potential to be very far reaching. For example, an employee could theoretically request to work from home or start or end their workday outside of typical business hours as part of a modified schedule or job restructuring. This could present challenges for employers and their business operations as employer work settings, operating procedures and needs vary across industries and business sizes. Employers in our state already work with their staff on an individual basis to provide adequate accommodations for various medical issues, including breastfeeding break times and private spaces currently required by law to support the employee needing an accommodation, as well as the needs of the business and the rest of the workforce. This vague language is not necessary and has the potential to create an imbalance in the employee/employer relationship.
Lastly, requiring that an employee be entitled to the numerous accommodations mentioned in the law for as long as they desire goes far beyond the federal requirement of one year after the birth of a child for breastfeeding accommodations set forth under the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act. In addition, this language would far exceed the handful of states (Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine) that surpass the federal one-year standard with finite time limits. The uncertainty of how long employees may request accommodations can have negative impacts on overall business operations and other employees as women can nurse for a number of years after giving birth if they so choose.
Our state is already ranked as one of the most protective states in the nation for lactating employees according to the Pregnancy Accommodation Working Group, an initiative of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of Law. New Jersey law already requires all employers, regardless of business size, to provide reasonable break times each day and a suitable, private location other than a toilet stall for employees to express breast milk for their infant child. This legislation is not necessary and places another mandate on the business community that will be felt most acutely by our state’s small businesses at a time when they are still struggling to stay afloat post-pandemic. If signed into law, this legislation will become the most far-reaching, unwarranted breastfeeding accommodation in the nation. For these reasons, we respectfully urge you to vote NO on A- 795.