The US DOL has issued a fact sheet to address the break time requirement for nursing mothers in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) which took effect on March 23, 2010 as an amendment to Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
The amendment requires an employer to allow "reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child's birth each time such employee has need to express the milk." The employer must provide "a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk".
Only employees who are not exempt from the FLSA’s overtime pay requirements are entitled to breaks to express milk. While employers are not required under the FLSA to provide breaks to nursing mothers who are exempt from the overtime pay requirements of Section 7, they may be obligated to provide such breaks under State laws.
The law is vague as to how many and how long these breaks are permitted since the language of the statute is “reasonable break time” to express the breast milk “each time the employee has the need to do so.” These breaks are at the prerogative of the mother. The mother is not required to take these breaks.
These rest breaks need not be compensated, under the Act. However, other federal legislation requires employers to compensate employees for “rest periods of short duration running from 5 minutes to about 20 minutes…” Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the FLSA break time requirement if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship. Whether compliance would be an undue hardship is determined by looking at the difficulty or expense of compliance for a specific employer in comparison to the size, financial resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s business. All employees who work for the covered employer, regardless of work site, are counted when determining whether this exemption may apply.
Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk. However, where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. In addition, the FLSA’s general requirement that the employee must be completely relieved from duty or else the time must be compensated as work time applies.
In addition, the “lactation room” must be a place “other than the bathroom that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.” The Department of Health and Human services states this room may be as small as 4 feet by 5 feet to comfortably accommodate a chair and table or shelf.
The area need not be a room at all either, with several employers using privacy screens in less traveled areas of the office. While a possible solution, this is definitely not the best, as it does not allow for restricted access via lock and key to prevent accidental intrusion.
Employers should locate private areas other than the bathroom that could operate as a “mother’s room.” Having a lock or some other way to prevent accidental intrusion is recommended. An unused office is a good option.
If there are multiple mothers or the room serves as a multipurpose room, a “reservation” schedule should be organized to best make use of the space and prevent conflicts.