A couple of months ago, I did a post on a new guide available on the Connecticut Department of Labor website on “Connecticut Breastfeeding Nondiscrimination and Workplace Accommodation Laws.” While I noted that it was a useful document, I also pointed out that there were some areas that could have used a bit more context for employers.
Recently, the head of the Connecticut Breastfeeding Coalition, Michele Griswold, posted a lengthy and helpful comment to the blog post but because the post is older, many readers probably missed it. So rather than just keep the comment there in the archives, I thought I would reprint it in its entirety. In the comment, she notes the laws in the area are still vague but encourages readers to review the laws. She also provides some useful links too. My thanks to Ms. Griswold for sharing these comments and I’m pleased to reprint them here:
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.
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.
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