Expanded Protections for Working Mothers in San Francisco


Effective January 1, 2018, San Francisco will expand available protections for nursing mothers working within city limits. California law currently requires employers to provide lactating employees with a reasonable amount of break time and to make reasonable efforts to provide the employee with a room, other than a bathroom, in close proximity to the employee’s work area to express milk.  Similarly, federal law requires employers to provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for one year after the child’s birth in a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.  Signed into law by San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee on June 30, 2017, the “Lactation in the Workplace Ordinance” will expand these requirements for San Francisco employers in the following ways.

First, the Ordinance requires employers to provide a reasonable amount of break time to accommodate lactating employees. This break may run concurrently with break time already provided to employees. If a lactation break does not run concurrently with a previously authorized break, the lactation break may be unpaid.

In addition to providing a private location other than a bathroom, the Ordinance requires that employers provide a room that is safe, clean and free of toxins or hazardous materials. The location must also contain a surface to place a breast pump and other personal items, a place to sit, access to electricity, and be in close proximity to a refrigerator and running water. If needed, employers may use the lactation room for other purposes so long as lactation accommodation takes priority. Employers may be exempt from this requirement if compliance would create an undue hardship on the employer, including requiring construction to comply, or removing retail floor space or restaurant seating to comply.

Employers must also develop and implement a written lactation accommodation policy. The policy must:

  • Include a statement that employees have a right to request lactation accommodation;
  • Identity a process by which an employee may request lactation accommodation;
    • The process must specify the means by which an employee may submit a request for accommodation; require the employer to respond to such request within 5 business days; and require the employee and employer to engage in an interactive process to determine the appropriate accommodations.
  • State that if a request for lactation accommodation is denied, the employer must provide the employee with a written response identifying the basis for the denial;
  • State that retaliation is prohibited; and
  • Be distributed to employees upon hire and included in the employee handbook. Employers will be required to maintain a record of requests for lactation accommodation for three years. San Francisco employers should take the opportunity now to review their policies and practices around lactation accommodations, to ensure compliance by January 1, 2018. Beginning in 2019, employers may incur a $500 penalty for every violation of the Ordinance.