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New state law sets standards for workplace lactation rooms

One of the lactation rooms at the University of Rochester Medical Center Orthopaedics & Physical Performance Center
Jeremy Moule
One of the lactation rooms at the University of Rochester Medical Center Orthopaedics & Physical Performance Center

Employers in New York were already legally required to provide spaces for pumping breast milk, but a state law that took effect Wednesday will require those spaces to meet minimum standards.

During a visit to Rochester to promote the law, state Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon explained that the rooms must be well-lit, private and free from intrusion, and have chairs, tables or flat surfaces, and nearby sources of clean, running water.

Reardon said the law also spells out that nursing employees are entitled to take breaks any time they need to express breast milk.

“When we create an environment where women can balance their work and family responsibilities, without compromising their career prospects, their career prospects, we empower them to achieve their full potential,” Reardon said.

Reardon spoke during a news conference at University of Rochester Medical Center’s orthopedics center at Marketplace Mall, which is partially under construction. In a finished wing, the center has a suite of lactation rooms for employees.

Sarah Sokolofsky is a nurse at the center who breastfed her three children. She saysid returning to work after having a baby can be scary, but supportive workplaces with safe, comfortable spaces where breastfeeding parents can pump makes a big difference.

“Having a safe space has helped me to feel more secure,” Sokolofsky said. “And knowing that even though I wasn't able to physically be with my child, I could still provide for their needs while I was at work, which is a comfort that every parent deserves.”

Employers are supposed notify their employees of the new law. Reardon encouraged workers to notify the state Department of Labor if their employers do not comply with the law’s provisions.

“We will take appropriate action to address the situation,” Reardon said. “We hope that doesn’t occur, of course, especially because supporting employees in this manner is really good for business.”

Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.