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New York business leaders knock preparation time for paid breast milk breaks

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State business leaders are concerned small employers will struggle to comply with a new state law that took effect Wednesday which mandates all breastfeeding workers receive additional paid breaks to express breast milk.

Lawmakers amended the state labor law in the last budget, which passed about two months ago, to require all New York employers, regardless of size, pay breastfeeding employees for 30-minute breaks to express breast milk at work up to three years after the birth of their child.

“It’s 30 minutes, however, it doesn’t mean it’s one-time, once a day and that’s it,” said Allen Shoikhetbrod, managing partner at Tully Rinckey’s office in Albany. “There could be employees that have reasonable needs to express breast milk more than once a day.”

The number of paid breaks each employee will need to express breast milk will vary, according to the state Labor Department, and workers must notify their employer about the need for the paid breaks in writing.

Employers are required to notify workers of the new policy.

“Making or forcing [employees] to make up the lost time expressing breast milk by working overtime or coming to work beforehand or staying late — that is prohibited,” Shoikhetbrod said. “…You can’t plead ignorance of the law.”

New York employers have been required for years to give employees a private place to express breast milk. But state business leaders said Wednesday while they support they new mandate, the state did not give employers adequate notice, or time, to prepare.

“If you’re busy making pizzas or doing plumbing, you might not be aware that these things are available unless you belong to a business council or chamber of commerce,” said Frank Kerbein, director of the Human Resources Center with the Business Council of New York State.

The state Labor Department only released updated guidance on the policy this week — or two days before the law took effect.

Discrimination or retaliation against breastfeeding employees is prohibited, which is expected to increase litigation of businesses not complying with the law.

Kerbein said most New York employers are used to providing breastfeeding workers a private place to express breast milk, but added over 99% of employers across the state have fewer than 20 employees — and while the new law is worthy, it could pose unexpected cost burdens for small businesses.

“The time spent complying with these things adds up and New York has difficulties with its reputation for being business-friendly,” Kerbein said. “And this is all part of it.”

State Labor Department officials did respond to questions about business leaders’ criticisms that the department did not inform businesses about the mandate early enough or allow sufficient time to plan for the change. All state departments were closed Wednesday in honor of the holiday Juneteenth.

The state Department of Labor encourages New York employees who are not provided paid breaks or a private space with a chair and table near clear water to express breast milk to file a complaint with the department’s Division of Labor Standards. All complaints remain confidential.

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