Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.
On February 11, 2021, the Women’s Advocate Office (WAO) published Guidelines on the Acclimatization of Lactation Rooms (Guidelines), which apply to both public- and private-sector employers. The Guidelines, which are effective immediately, set forth 10 criteria that employer-provided lactation rooms must meet to be compliant with Puerto Rico laws governing a working mother’s right to breastfeed and the child’s right to be fed.
Three important statutes discussed in the Guidelines establish the right to breastfeed in Puerto Rico. The first, Act 427-2000, as amended, known as “Act to Regulate Breastfeeding and Breast Milk Extraction Periods,” ensures that nursing mothers who work full-time (more than 7.5 hours per day) can have one hour to express breastmilk during their shift. The employee can, in turn, use that one hour by dividing it into two 30-minute periods or three periods of 20 minutes. The statute likewise established that nursing mothers working part-time can have a 30-minute period after four consecutive hours of work to express breastmilk. The second, Act 155-2002, known as “Act to Establish Lactation Spaces within the Public Entities of the Government of Puerto Rico,” imposes an obligation on public government entities to ensure and facilitate a designated space to express breastmilk. The third, Act 220-2004, known as “Act to Establish the Pregnant Student’s Bill of Rights,” established similar lactation areas within the schools of the Puerto Rico Department of Education where teenage mothers can choose to express breastmilk without jeopardizing their education.
In general terms, employers running afoul the above-mentioned statutes face administrative fines and could be forced to compensate lactating working mothers for their damages. In turn, the Guidelines strive to ensure the employer’s compliance with Puerto Rico’s aforementioned lactation laws.
The Guidelines recognize that a lactating working mother has a right to choose how to feed her child and that, if the lactation process is interrupted, her child’s right to be fed could be impacted since lactation could be reduced or even cease. As such, the Guidelines acknowledge that a designated space for expressing breastmilk or breastfeeding must be ideal and that the mother’s peace of mind is an important factor to this process; thus, she must be at ease during this period. Therefore, pursuant to the Guidelines, lactation rooms provided by employers must be secure, private, and clean. Specifically, the Guidelines list 10 criteria that lactation rooms in the workplace must meet:
- Security. The lactation room must have a lockable door and be free from objects that could put at risk the lactating mother’s safety or the safety of her breastmilk.
- Privacy. Lactation spaces should be reserved for the exclusive use of lactating mothers, be located in areas away from work areas or with the least foot traffic. Furthermore, the lactation room itself should not have security camaras, and any such cameras nearby should not be pointed at the lactation room’s entrance.
- Cleanliness. Lactating mothers should have the facilities necessary to clean both their hands and the equipment used to extract breastmilk, before and after its use. As such, lactation rooms are required to have either a bathroom sink or any other type of sink. Bathrooms cannot be an alternative to lactation rooms. All employers must document and include the steps involved in the lactation room’s cleaning process.
- Adequate Space. The lactation room must be furnished with a support table or some other type of support for the equipment used for expressing milk, and a comfortable chair.
- Electricity Outlets. This is to allow the connection and use of electronic devices for expressing milk.
- Ventilation. The Guidelines indicate that certain particles in the air may affect both the mother’s health and the quality of her milk. Therefore, a well-ventilated room is essential to reduce carbon dioxide levels and eliminate lingering odors. To that end, the lactation room must have adequate ventilation and be free from air contaminants that may affect air quality within the room.
- Milk Storage. Since the time of milk extraction and the time the child is fed might not coincide, lactation rooms must contain a refrigerator where the breastmilk may be stored.
- Accessibility. Lactation rooms should be easily accessible to lactating working mothers.
- Exclusivity. The lactation room should only be used for expressing breastmilk to ensure that the space remains clean and secure. Thus, it must be closed at all times under lock and key.
- Applicable Regulations. Employers must have a policy that establishes the correct use of the room. Furthermore, the employer must maintain a registry specific to the lactation room, which shows the time of entry and exit of the lactating employee, as well as of the person in charge of cleaning it.
Lastly, the Guidelines reiterate that the WAO has the authority to inspect lactation rooms of both public and private employers, either by request or on their own volition. For this purpose, the Guidelines have attached a “WAO’s Lactation Room Inspection Form” which, in general terms, coincides with the aforementioned lactation room criteria.
The Guidelines make clear that private- and public-sector employers must provide a safe, clean, and private place for lactation. This is to ensure that both the working lactating mother’s right to choose how to feed, and the child’s right to be fed, are not infringed upon.