Lactation Accommodation Bill Would Expand Liability and Create Litigation Traps for California Employers

There is no question that breastfeeding newborn babies creates significant mental and physical health benefits for both mother and child. CalChamber supported legislation last year to strengthen California’s existing lactation accommodation law and ensure mothers have a comfortable and private space to express milk.

Follow-on legislation this year (SB 142 – Wiener) expands this accommodation in several ways, some of which is useful and could be supported by employers. But the bill goes too far in creating burdensome and unnecessary penalties and opens the door to vexatious litigation.

SB 142 is based on an ordinance passed in San Francisco less than two years ago and now seeks to apply those same requirements to every employer in the State of California. What’s good for San Francisco though, is not always a good fit for the rest of the state, which is why Governor Brown vetoed similar legislation last year.

Specifically, SB 142 requires employers to do the following:

  • Install/construct a lactation accommodation space for all employees. Based on experience under the recent San Francisco ordinance, this would cost businesses between $30,000 and $105,000.
  • Require employers to police employees and ensure they are taking breaks to express milk or face a financial penalty. No employee wants an employer monitoring whether they have taken a break to express milk – yet SB 142 would force that discussion.
  • Expose employers to another layer of litigation if certain prescriptive and subjective requirements for the lactation space are not met. California law already protects mothers who are breastfeeding and includes an avenue for litigation if necessary. There is no need to add another layer of litigation that benefits trial attorneys, not the employees.

CalChamber has set forth a number of proposed amendments to SB 142 that would enhance the existing protections for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace but would eliminate the litigation and costly requirements. Unfortunately, those amendments thus far have not been accepted by the author or proponents of the bill. But, with four weeks left in session, there is still plenty of time to achieve a win-win on this important workplace issue.

Ben Ebbink, on behalf of California Chamber of Commerce