Read GBC’s Position Statement: Baltimore City Council Bill – Lactation Accommodations in the Workplace

Greater Baltimore Committee President and CEO Donald C. Fry submitted a position statement on October 17, 2018 to the Baltimore City Council for Council Bill 18-0276 – Lactation Accommodations in the Workplace.

POSITION: Support w/Amendments

On March 23, 2010, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act became effective with the signing of the Affordable Care Act. Under this provision, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth in a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. Employers with less than 50 employees are exempt if the requirements would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense.

Considering that seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, this was a much-needed accommodation to ensure that working mothers are able to care for their infant child while at their place of employment. The exemption for small businesses is important as it protects companies that may not be able to comply with the law for financial reasons or simply because of the structure of their physical space.

There are many states and localities across the country that have passed similar laws regarding lactation accommodations for women in the workplace. The most common language used in these local statutes – including Washington, D.C. – requires an employer to provide “reasonable” break periods to allow for a woman to express breast milk and that the employer must make “reasonable efforts” to provide a location, other than a toilet stall, where an employee can express her breast milk in privacy and security. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, New York, Tennessee, and Vermont all use the same “reasonable efforts” language as Washington, D.C.

Council Bill 18-0276 takes the aforementioned provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act a step further in mandating that all businesses in Baltimore City that employ two or more employees must provide a space, other than a toilet stall, where lactating mothers can express breast milk. The bill outlines the specifics of what must be included in the space, dictates that the space must be in close proximity (within 500 feet or two adjacent floors) to an employees work area, sets out reporting requirements for businesses, and establishes criminal penalties for noncompliance.

The Greater Baltimore Committee is supportive of this effort to expand the federal law to provide additional accommodations for lactating mothers. For many businesses, compliance with this bill should cause minimal hardship since the legislation specifies that an employees’ regular work area can be used as a lactation space. However, for some businesses the requirements of the legislation would cause enormous undue burden and amendments should be adopted to hold those businesses harmless.

Two business groups that would have significant trouble complying with this legislation are hotels and hospitals because of the provision in the law specifying that the lactation space must be within two adjacent floors of an employee’s work area. It is unreasonable to ask a hotel or a hospital – both typically housed in buildings with multiple floors – to dedicate an area on every third floor to be used as a lactation space. Many hospitals and hotels either already have lactation facilities in a designated area or have break rooms on one floor that could be used as lactation spaces. Requiring these entities to take away either guest space or previously appropriated patient care space to create a lactation facility on every third floor not only hurts the business but also the customers and patients the business is trying to serve. The GBC respectfully requests that language be added to the legislation exempting hotels, hospitals, and similar businesses from the “two adjacent floors” provision.

Another exemption that should be adopted applies to very small businesses, such as stores, that may not have the physical space to create a lactation space. The federal provision only applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. The GBC respectfully requests that this bill be amended to apply to businesses with 25 or more employees.

Lastly, the component of the legislation regarding criminal penalties should be removed altogether. Imposing a criminal penalty on a business owner for a first-time violation of this law is unconscionable. Effective financial penalties or other sanctions short of criminal liability are more appropriate ways to ensure compliance with this proposal.

For these reasons and others, we respectfully request a favorable vote on Council Bill 18-0276 contingent on the passage of the amendments discussed above.

Read the position statement in its entirety here.