Illinois Quietly Amends its Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act to Require Paid Breaks to Nursing Mothers

The Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act was recently (and quietly) amended last month. There are two significant changes.

  1. Employers must provide paid leave for women to express milk once their unpaid break and meal breaks required by either the employer’s policies or the Illinois One Day Off In Seven Act are exhausted. This requirement expires upon the baby’s first birthday. Up until then, the employee has the right to a break whenever she needs to express milk.
  2. More frequent breaks must be provided based on the mother’s needs unless the employer can show it would be an “undue hardship” to provide more breaks. The Act specifically adopts the undue hardship standard from the Illinois Human Rights Act. It is a more difficult burden to establish than the “unduly disruptive” language that it replaces.

The law is not a model of clarity. For example, it does not come right out and say that additional breaks must be paid, but the language makes that clear: “An employer may not reduce an employee's compensation for time used for the purpose of expressing milk or nursing a baby.” This language follows the provision that an employee’s nursing breaks can run concurrently to other breaks that the employer provides, including unpaid break time.

While the new law may seem unwieldy, employers must use common to fill in the blanks of this bare bones statute. Human Resources and/or a supervisor with whom the employee feels comfortable should talk out the nursing mom’s needs. It may be that the employee does not need any further breaks than are already provided under the employer’s policies. If she does need more, talk this through to know when she will need the break(s) and how long they are expected to take.

Do not forget that the Act also requires employers to provide a private location in close proximity to the work place (other than a bathroom stall) for the expression of milk. The law applies to employers with more than five employees. The amendment became effective on August 21, 2018.

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