Puerto Rico Supreme Court: Failure To Provide Safe, Private And Hygienic Area For Breastfeeding In The Workplace May Violate Working Mother's Constitutional Right To Privacy

Author:Ms Shiara Diloné-Fernández and Gabriel Maldonado-González
Profession:Littler Mendelson
 
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On January 25, 2016, the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico held that employers in Puerto Rico should provide a safe, private, and hygienic place for working nursing mothers to extract breast milk during the nursing period as provided under Act No. 427-2000, as amended ("Act 427"). The Supreme Court further held that, given certain conditions, failure by an employer to provide a safe, private, and hygienic place to extract breast milk may be a constitutional violation of the working mother's right to privacy under the Constitution of Puerto Rico if the working mother's decision to breastfeed her child is affected by the employer's violation of Act 427.

In Siaca v. Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, LLC et al.,1 a security guard supervisor ("the plaintiff") at a resort informed her employer that she would continue breastfeeding her child once she returned to work from maternity leave.  Plaintiff alleged that upon returning to work, Plaintiff was directed to use various rooms that were inadequate for breastfeeding either due to lack of safety, privacy or hygiene. 

Due to construction at the resort, many areas, including the Human Resources office, were located on trailers scattered around the construction site.  Initially, Plaintiff was directed to use a bathroom to express her breast milk.  Concerned about the germs and poor hygiene found in bathrooms, plaintiff requested an alternative and was directed to use office trailers that were long walks from her workplace, taking up approximately 15-minutes from her thirty-minute breastfeeding break and forcing her to be late when returning to her post.  Such tardiness subjected her to disciplinary actions and eventually caused her to lose her supervisory position.

In addition to the distance, the trailers were not hygienic nor adequately protected Plaintiff's privacy.  One of the trailers had uncovered windows, which Plaintiff had to cover before each use to prevent persons passing by from looking into the breastfeeding room.  In another trailer, the humidity level was high and the room had mold and insects.  After placing several complaints to management throughout several months, Plaintiff was directed to use a small storage room in the human resources office trailer, which was dirty, full of items, and had humidity and mold problems.  On several occasions at the different locations, personnel entered the room while Plaintiff was extracting breast milk, despite a sign Plaintiff had posted on the exterior...

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