A little known fact to many employers is that the healthcare reform adopted by President Obama earlier this year, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide break time for nursing mothers. The U.S. Department of Labor issued a fact sheet on July 15, 2010 providing employers additional guidance about the new law.
Specifically, effective March 23, 2010, an employer must provide reasonable break time for an employee who wishes to express milk for her nursing child for one year after the birth of the child. An employer also must provide a private space, shielded from view and free from intrusion – that is not a bathroom – in which the employee may express milk. That obligation applies to all employers although there is an exception for those employers with fewer than 50 employees who can demonstrate that the break time would pose an undue hardship.
Technically, the new obligation only applies to employees who are considered “nonexempt” under the overtime pay provisions of the federal wage and hour law (Fair Labor Standards Act). However, this federal law does not preempt state law, which in certain cases applies to exempt and nonexempt employees and may provide broader protections such as compensated break time. As a result, employers should consult with counsel to ensure that their handbooks and policies comply with applicable law.