If you’ve been with this blog since it’s inception, you probably recall a few posts here, here, and here that I did early on about what employers needed to know about the breastfeeding in the workplace laws.

Now, the CHRO in conjunction with the Connecticut Departments of Public Health and Labor, and the Connecticut Breastfeeding coalition, have released a document entitled “Guide to Connecticut Breastfeeding Nondiscrimination and Workplace Accommodation Laws” which you can download here.

The guide sets forth the basic parameters of the state of the law in Connecticut:

Mothers can generally breastfeed at a time, place and manner of their choosing while in a place of public accommodation. They do not have to go to a special area or go into the restroom. They do not have to cover the baby with a towel or blanket. The owner, manager or employee of a place of public accommodation cannot request that the mother stop breastfeeding her baby, cover up, move to a different room or area, or leave.

The guide says that it is adopted from a similar guide in the state of Washington. And it can be confusing in that it doesn’t distinguish clearly between what businesses need to do to accommodate breast-feeding mothers and what businesses need to do to accommodate their workers.

For example, under one FAQ, it answers the question: “Do I need to provide a special room or space for breastfeeding mothers?” with “No. You do not need to provide a room or separate space for breastfeeding mothers, although you may choose to do so.”

That may be true for members of the public that may use a business’s public space, but that’s not the state of the law for employers.  As the guide notes several pages later, Connecticut does have a law that requires employers to provide such a space. Specifically, Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-40w(b) states that: “An employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where the employee can express her milk in private.”

Its also a little imprecise at times. For example, it posits the question of “Do I have to provide break times to an employee to breastfeed or express milk?”  It answers as follows:

It depends. The Connecticut law provides that if your business does not already provide breaks to employees, it does not need to provide special break periods for women who wish to express milk or breastfeed. However, the federal law does require employers to do so (for non-exempt employees) and whenever the federal law provides greater rights to the employee, the business must comply with that law.

As I’ve noted though in a prior post, not all employers are going to be covered by the federal law — a point that isn’t made clear in this section.

So, while this guide IS a useful document, employers who may be struggling with this issue, ought to review the law and seek some counsel to understand and solve the issues specific to their particular workplace.

  • CT Breastfeeding Coalition

    I’m writing today on behalf of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition. Apologies for the late comment. I’ve just now come across this post. First, many thanks for highlighting the newly released document “Guide to Connecticut Breastfeeding Nondiscrimination and Workplace Accommodation Laws.” Also, thanks for pointing out the gray areas! You are quite correct that some of the responses in the document are vague in places and that’s precisely because the laws themselves are rather vague with regard to the real needs of nursing mothers, especially in the workplace. The strength of the document lies in the collaborative effort put forth by the entities who have the specific legal answers for both families and employers as well as those entities who are versed in the unique physiologic and health needs of mothers and their children. Contact information is provided throughout the document. We would agree wholeheartedly, that questions can and should be directed toward the appropriate agency, but I can try to explain your points a bit further here.

    “Do I need to provide a special room or space for breastfeeding mothers?” The key word in this question is “special.” Employers are not required as I understand it, to designate a specific room that is used only for the purposes of expressing milk, but may do so if feasible. Ideally, there would be a designated room but it’s not required by law. Employers must, as I understand it, have a room available for nursing mothers, but it may be a different room each day or vary by employee, time of day and so forth. The guide does direct employers to “The Business Case for Breastfeeding” which is a comprehensive federal program for employers to use when implementing supportive environments for breastfeeding mothers. http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/government-in-action/business-case-for-breastfeeding/

    Your next point about break time is also well-taken. Employed mothers who do not typically have break time during their work day are not given break time under the current Connecticut law, but may be covered under the federal law. The document does address this briefly several paragraphs above your quoted question. It reads, “The Connecticut law applies to all businesses in Connecticut no matter the size. The federal law also applies to all businesses; however, if your business has fewer than 50 employees, it may be exempt from providing a break time for an employee to express milk or breastfeed if it would cause the business an “undue hardship.” For guidance on what would constitute an “undue hardship” under the federal law, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s fact sheet: http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.htm

    We concur that the vague nature of the laws paired with the real needs of nursing mothers in the workplace make for some interesting and highly debatable questions. Not surprisingly, there are very few filed complaints and to my knowledge, no litigated cases in CT regarding this issue. It can be a difficult issue for many mothers to pursue and rather than “fight it,” they tend to just stop breastfeeding which may have an impact on future health for themselves and their children. The fact remains that most mothers return to the workplace at a time when their healthcare providers and their infants healthcare providers are recommending breastfeeding for optimal health. Barriers in the workplace are among the most frequently cited reasons that mothers give for stopping breastfeeding prematurely. We hope that the guide offers the answers to some basic questions and gives the reader an opportunity for more information through links to those who have more specific answers.

    Thanks once again for your interest in this issue.

    Michele Griswold MPH, RN, IBCLC
    Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition

    • Anonymous

      Thanks so much for your comments and providing additional feedback on the points raised. Through discussions like this, we can ensure that employers can comply with the law and mothers get the assistance they need.