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Are California companies obligated to accommodate lactation needs?

On Behalf of | Apr 17, 2023 | Employment Law For Employers |

Most employers are happy to make accommodations for their workers, as long as those accommodations don’t affect the efficiency or well-being of the business. An employee who needs to leave early once a week to attend medical appointments may be permitted to make up their time earlier on that day. A retail worker whose anxiety makes it difficult for them to interact with customers directly may be given more stocking responsibilities in the back. 

Yet, not all accommodations are easy to honor. As a result, many business owners understandably want to have a strong sense of their rights and obligations under the law so that they can make more informed decisions concerning when accommodations must be granted and when they may be respectfully declined.

For example, nursing mothers and other lactating parents may request time to pump, a location conducive to pumping and cold storage for their expressed milk. There are certain business models – and business locations – that aren’t set up for this kind of arrangement. As a result, is there ever a time when employers are not legally obligated to accommodate lactation needs?

Exceptions to legal lactation mandates are rare, but they do exist

Failure to accommodate a lactating parent’s needs for a place – other than a bathroom – to pump is generally a violation of the law and could be considered unlawful discrimination. However, there are exceptions to this legal requirement, including affording break time that would “seriously disrupt” an employer’s operations and an inability to provide space for pumping due to the genuine space constraints of a business. 

With that said, employers shouldn’t risk a violation of the law if they are unsure of whether their circumstances meet the terms of an exception. As a result, seeking legal guidance before committing to a plan of action is generally a good idea.