By Kaitlyn Dunphy, Esq.
Breastfeeding, while rewarding, is a challenging undertaking for many, and even more so when a new parent must navigate lactation schedules and policies while she is planning her return to work. According to the New Jersey Department of Education’s (NJDOE) 2020 Lactation Room Policy Report, no schools serving grades 8 through 12 had a designated lactation room policy in place at the time of that report, which was issued in August of 2020. Of the reporting schools, 14.64% accommodated breastfeeding staff, and 17.31% accommodated lactating students.
Beginning with 2020, NJDOE is required by state regulation to annually collect statistics surrounding lactation policies and accommodations provided by K-12 districts. The 2021 report is due to be released on Aug. 15, which followed press time for this edition of the NJEA Review.. The report will likely be made available on the NJDOE’s website at bit.ly/lactationdoe.
The statistics on the lack of existing lactation room policies are disheartening, but that does not mean that there is no support for breastfeeding members who are returning to work. In 2018, New Jersey passed legislation that requires an employer to engage in an interactive process with an employee who requests an accommodation to breastfeed or express breastmilk during the workday to discuss the request and the parameters of the accommodation. Unless it causes an undue hardship for employers, they must provide the employee with reasonable break time to breastfeed or express breastmilk, and they must provide a private location to do so.
Local associations and members should advocate for their boards to accommodate breastfeeding members as well as students, and to institute lactation policies. New Jersey law requires that the lactation space is a private area that is not a restroom, and that it is in close proximity to the employee’s work area. It does not have to be a space that is solely dedicated as a lactation room, but it must be made available to the employee during her breaks.
Best practices for a lactation policy would include making sure that the space provided is clean, available, able to be locked from the inside, has the necessary space and electrical outlets for pumping equipment, and nearby access to running water. Preferably, the lactation room would have direct access to a sink and refrigeration space. It would be best to avoid using the nurse’s office as a lactation space, as that would cause unnecessary exposure to germs that could be passed to the newborn.
Because the breaks must be reasonable in length, the employer should engage the member in a discussion regarding scheduling those break times. The law does not require a precise allotment of time for those breaks, but it does require that they be treated in the same manner of other types of breaks, particularly when it comes to compensation. Further, best practices would include providing separate break times; prep periods are an important part of work duties, and not a break.
For more information about advocating for lactation accommodations and policies, a group of NJEA members and staff have formed the Lactation Rights Task Force under the auspices of the NJEA Women in Education Committee. If you are interested in learning more about or joining in their work, e-mail me at
email@example.com or Meredith Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kaitlyn Dunphy is an associate director of NJEA Legal Services and Member Rights in the NJEA Executive Office. She can be reached at email@example.com.