Q. Does our company have to permit new moms to nurse at work?
A. Ohio has one of the most liberal breast-feeding laws in the country. O.R.C. 3781.55 provides: “A mother is entitled to breast-feed her baby in any location of a place of public accommodation wherein the mother otherwise is permitted.”
In April 2007, the Ohio Civil Rights Commission issued its first finding under this statute, against a fitness club that prohibited a member from breast-feeding.
This provision, however, may not necessarily prohibit an employer from stopping a lactating employee from taking time out of her day to nurse or pump. Because private work areas generally are not open to the public, they are typically not considered “public accommodations.”
Just because the law might not protect a mother’s right to nurse at work does not mean that a company should immediately prohibit the activity. To the contrary, a company has to take a look at its other similar policies. A no-breast-feeding policy will, by its very nature, apply only to women.
What other similar policies might a company have? Does it allow bathroom breaks during the workday? Smoking breaks? Other personal time? If so, a ban on nursing during the workday very well might be deemed discriminatory, because it is necessarily targeted only at women.