Can you get an exemption for any of these situations? Apparently not. Although there is a “hardship” exemption for businesses with fewer than five employees in the proposal, it is not defined what constitutes a hardship. So, yeah, apparently you’d have to create a lactation room even if all of your female employees are nuns.
Our business group quickly saw that the proposed law was coming down on businesses as an inflexible mandate, one they would have to comply with, whether it made sense for them or not. It would be costly and, for some, all but impossible to comply with.
But that wasn’t the big objection. The big objection was that employees could file civil actions for violations.
Under the state’s unique Private Attorney General Act, employees can file suit for some regulatory infractions. That sounds fairly benign, but the reality can be lethal. A PAGA lawsuit can cost a business not hundreds or thousands of dollars in fines, as you might expect, but millions in judgments and settlements. At least two businesses in the San Fernando Valley last year paid more than $1 million each in PAGA settlements, one because employee break times were not documented and another because it allowed employees the flexibility to take their lunch break whenever they wanted – in violation of a regulation that says employees must take a lunch break no later than five hours after starting work.
Most of the business operators in my little group ended up opposing the proposed law. But they did it with kind of a sigh of resignation over their dilemma. While several of them saw the value in the concept of creating private rooms for new mothers, they objected to the heavy-handed and inflexible way the state law was proposed. And more than anything, they hate the feature that allows employees to file civil lawsuits – potentially ruinous ones, at that – for any little infraction.
It would be a generous gesture for companies to create lactation rooms. But our group of business operators know what will happen if this law passes. It will come back to bite them.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.