NJBIA's Public Policy Forum: The Road to Recovery REGISTER

New Jersey has a new law on breastfeeding in the workplace, and unlike federal law, this one applies to very small businesses as well. But don’t panic; accommodating new mothers returning to work may be easier than you think.

First the legal stuff. Before leaving office, former Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation requiring employers to accommodate breastfeeding employees and making it a violation of New Jersey’s law against discrimination to treat them unfavorably.

Since 2010, federal law has required companies with 50 or more employees to provide breastfeeding accommodations. New Jersey’s new law, however, applies to employers of all sizes.

Specifically, state law says an employer must provide a “suitable room or other location with privacy” for the employee to pump breastmilk. The room must be in close proximity to the employee’s work area, and it cannot be a toilet stall. The state law also says employers can’t treat an employee differently than other employees simply because she is breastfeeding.

This may seem difficult, but don’t worry, you don’t need to put on an addition to your workplace. First, look around your facility and see if there’s an unused area like a storage facility that can be used as a nursing station. The area doesn’t have to be big, but it should be clean, uncluttered, and private.

If that doesn’t work, remember that the space does not have to be permanent. You could provide employees unoccupied offices, conference rooms and lounges, or even the use of a manager’s office for 30 minutes or so. Remember that the space must provide privacy, so if a common area is used, the employee should be able to lock the door from the inside. If the space cannot be locked, protect the privacy of nursing moms with signage and a well-communicated policy which informs other workers when the space is in use.

If all else fails, you can invest in a portable, pre-fabricated breastfeeding suite. These provide a ready-made space for both nursing and pumping, and can be moved out of the way by one person when they are not being used.

Whatever you may think of New Jersey’s law, breastfeeding is part of the modern workplace, so it behooves employers to be ready. It’s a good idea to have a policy in place to address this issue even before it’s needed so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. The policy may be incorporated into an existing employee handbook or may be a notice in a common area.

If you need more tips on complying with this, or other laws, contact NJBIA’s Member Action Center at 1-800-499-4419, ext. 3, or member411@njbia.org.