Amended Illinois law requires employers to grant new moms paid nursing breaks

By Gabriel Neves | Sep 21, 2018

CHICAGO -- Nursing mothers in Illinois will now be granted "reasonable" paid breaks in the workplace to nurse a baby or express milk for up to a year following the birth of a child, under a new law.

Gov. Rauner signed legislation in August amending the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act.

The amendment clarified definitions' requiring employers to provide "reasonable break time," according to attorney Colton Long, a labor and employment lawyer with the firm of Seyfarth Shaw, in Chicago.

The new law says nursing breaks may still run concurrently with other breaks, and "an employer may not reduce an employee’s compensation for the time used for the purpose of expressing milk or nursing a baby," Long noted.

Colton Long   Seyfarth Shaw

"The amendments delineate a specific time frame within which employers must give employees reasonable break time to nurse a baby or express milk. Previously, the law was not clear about this," Long said.

Exemptions also changed in the law.

"Previously, employers could argue they didn’t need to comply with the law if complying 'would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations,'" Long said.

But he said that phrase - unduly disrupt - was "an ill-defined term that created uncertainty for employers and employees alike."

"With the amendments, employers are only excepted from compliance if doing so creates an undue hardship as already defined by the Illinois Human Rights Act. Proving an undue hardship is difficult to do and so this change makes clear that employers have an uphill battle should they try to get out from under the law’s requirements," Long said.

The new "undue hardship" definition, as Long mentioned, "also makes clear that most Illinois employers must comply with the law, absent significant circumstances justifying an exemption."

Long shied away from predicting whether the new standards under the law could breed more lawsuits against employers, noting "the amendments just recently went into effect." However, he encouraged employers to "promptly review their current nursing/lactation policy and see if it complies with the recent amendments."

Long also states that employers should adapt to the law soon and work together with their breastfeeding employees.

"If a working new mother requests additional breaks for nursing, employers should not be afraid to discuss with her appropriate details regarding the number and frequency of those breaks. The law envisions an interactive determination of how many additional breaks are needed," Long said.

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Seyfarth Shaw, LLP State of Illinois

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