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Understanding a “Reasonable Effort”

Published:  April 24, 2019

The Connecticut House recently passed a bill aimed at establishing certain rights for nursing mothers. The new statute would apply to virtually all employers in the state of Connecticut. In addition to stating that an employee may breastfeed or express breast milk on-site during their meal or break period, the new bill also creates requirements for providing space to do so.

The new statute requires all employers to make a “reasonable effort” to provide a room, or other location, in close proximity to the work area, where an employee can express breast milk in private. The room, or other location, must be free from intrusion and shielded from view of the public while the employee expresses breast milk. The area must also include or be situated near a refrigerator, or the employee-provided portable cold storage device, in which to store the employee’s breast milk. The area must also have access to an electrical outlet. The bill specifically states that a toilet stall does not satisfy this requirement.

So what is a “reasonable effort?” The bill defines this term to mean an effort that would not impose an undue hardship on operations (meaning requiring significant, difficult or expensive changes) when considered in relation to factors such as the size, financial resources, nature and structure of the business.

In practice, the application to these standards is not always easy. If you are a large company with a large facility, you probably have some free office or space, which can be converted into a designated area. In that case, you would be required to do so. If you are a very small company with small facilities and tight quarters (or even no facilities if you’re mobile/on the road), you may not have any space that could functionally serve as a designated space. In that case, you’d have a pretty strong argument that complying with the standard would create an undue hardship, and therefore probably be exempt.

What if you are a large company with significant resources, but your facility has an open floor plan? Or all the offices in your building have transparent glass partitions? In that case, presumably no rooms/offices (other than a bathroom) would be out of view from the public, and we know a toilet stall does not satisfy the laws requirements. In this scenario, the company’s significant resources might justify requiring the company to build/manufacture a designated space.

The biggest problem is that most employers fall somewhere in the middle. Few companies have significant unused facilities. However, merely having no unused offices/rooms won’t necessarily exempt a company. In all likelihood, the employer may be required to temporarily convert a designated space, such as an office or room that is typically used for another purpose.

The bill does leave some questions unanswered. Specifically, it does not define what “other location” constitutes. Additionally, the plain text of the bill states that the room/location must be shielded from view of the public while the employee expresses breast milk. This may mean that employers can comply by providing temporary or “pop-up” areas if they meet every other requirement.

Understanding proposed bills will help keep employers on top of potential legislative changes and if the bill becomes law, turn transitions into an expected update.

If you have any questions about workplace accommodations, or any other aspect of employment law, please contact the attorneys at Royal, P.C.

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