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Lactation Policy

                                                Effective Date: February 2020

Eligible Populations: All University Employees

Policy Statement 

Columbia University is committed to supporting the health and well-being of new parents and their babies.  In recognition of the needs of nursing parents, Columbia has an institutional policy for expressing breastmilk during the work day.

This policy is in accordance with the New York State Labor Law Section 206-C, New York City Administrative Code Section 8-107(22), and New York City Human Rights Law, as well as other  applicable state and local laws. The University has established procedures for requesting time and access to appropriate lactation accommodations for this purpose. 

Requests for time to express milk 

An employee at Columbia University may request to use reasonable paid/unpaid break time and/or paid/unpaid meal time each day to express milk for up to three years following childbirth.  If an employee wishes to continue beyond three years following childbirth, the employee may continue to request Lactation Room access and express milk using personal, unpaid time. 

Employees may express milk during regularly scheduled paid break and paid/unpaid meal periods; or if unpaid break time is needed, the employee may work before or after their normal shift to make up the amount of time used during the unpaid break time(s) for the expression of breastmilk, as long as working beyond the established hours of their department/office is approved, in advance, by their supervisor, and supports the operational needs of the department. (Lactation Room access is available to the employee during the basic work week and any overtime or additional hours worked.)    

Requests must be made in advance to departmental supervisors or Human Resources representatives, as appropriate, and state the duration of the request, as well as the option that the employee chooses to elect from the above.  The employee may alter their break choices during the period that they are requesting time to express breastmilk. If their needs change, they must submit such requests to their departmental supervisors or Human Resources representatives, as appropriate. Supervisors should remain flexible to accommodate those requests. 

Frequency and Duration 

The University will allow for reasonable break time at least once every three hours for no less than 30 minutes (plus travel time if needed) if requested by the employee.  Please note that the time needed to express milk can exceed 30 minutes, and that the length of time may vary throughout the day.

Supervisors should keep the variability of each person’s need in mind when working with the employee to manage their schedule. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to cultivate a supportive environment for breastfeeding employees so that they can adequately manage their lactation responsibilities.  If there are issues relating to the scheduling of breaks for an employee to express milk, the supervisor should consult with Human Resources to explore options. 

Access to and Establishment of Appropriate Space

Office of Work/Life Lactation Rooms: The Office of Work/Life maintains private, secure Lactation Rooms on all University campuses.  A list of those spaces can be found on the Office of Work/Life website.  These rooms are either equipped with or in close proximity to refrigerators for milk storage and sinks or microwaves for cleaning equipment. There is an online calendar sign up for the Lactation Rooms so that employees are able to find and reserve available spaces at the times or reasonably close to the times that they need to express milk.

Rooms managed by the Office of Work/Life are equipped with a hospital grade pump.  Personal attachments for use of the pumps are available for purchase through the Office of Work/Life or can be purchased through independent retailers.  

Employees who wish to access these spaces must contact Work/Life (Worklife@columbia.edu or 212-854-8019) at least five days in advance of their return to work or school to gain access to the appropriate rooms.  All rooms are accessed via key pad code or card swipe on a University ID that must be programmed in advance.  Requests made to Work/Life will be addressed within five business days.  

Anyone who accesses a Lactation Room for a different purpose or allows an unauthorized person to access the room will have their access revoked and may be subject to disciplinary action. 

Some departments have elected to establish and maintain their own Lactation Rooms.  Information about those spaces can also be found on the Office of Work/Life website. Many of these spaces are equipped with hospital grade pumps.   

Employees at CUIMC may also obtain access to Lactation Rooms at NYP if they are convenient to their work location.  Please contact Work/Life@columbia.edu to request contact information and procedures for those spaces. 

Setting-up Alternative Space: If the already existing Lactation Rooms are not within walking distance (10 minutes) of an employee’s primary work location, the employee’s manager/supervisor must work with the Office of Work/Life to identify an appropriate alternative space.

Requirements for appropriate space include:

• Private room that can be locked from the inside

• Sign to indicate the room is occupied

• Electrical outlet

• Comfortable chair made of a material that can be easily cleaned

• A table on which to rest a breast pump and other supplies

• Trash can

• Sink located either in the room or in close proximity to clean equipment

• Refrigerator either in the room or in close proximity for milk storage 

Temporary arrangements may be made in a vacant office or other space, so long as it is made private and inaccessible to the public when it is being used for milk expression. In cases where the lactation space is multipurpose, notice must be provided to other employees that the room is given preference for use as a Lactation Room (e.g. sign). A bathroom is never an appropriate space for this purpose. 

The University is not responsible for ensuring the safekeeping of expressed milk stored in any refrigerator on its premises. The employee is required to store all expressed milk in closed containers, regardless of the method of storage and to bring such milk home each evening.

Dissemination of Policy Information 

This policy will be available to both new hires and current employees. Managers are encouraged to review this policy with employees who are preparing for a maternity leave before they take leave and upon their return.