FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Working mothers who are breast-feeding and need to express their milk must have break times and a private location — not a bathroom — to do so in the workplace, according to a little-noticed provision of the new health care law.
“It flew under the radar and took everybody by surprise,” said Andrew Rodman, partner with Stearns Weaver Miller, a Miami law firm that sent out an advisory on the new law to clients this week.
The law, which applies to working mothers who need to pump their milk for their breast-feeding babies, is part of the health care law signed by President Barack Obama on March 23.
It could apply even to employers with 50 or fewer employees unless they can prove it’s an “undue hardship,” Rodman said.
The provision, which amended the Fair Labor Standards Act, was written for mothers who bring pumping equipment to work to express milk for their babies.
A bathroom is not an acceptable location, the law states.
“It has to be a private location where it’s not going to be public viewing while pumping,” Rodman said. “It must be free from intrusion.”
Even putting up a curtain, which is how some companies have provided privacy, probably would not be enough under the new law, he said.
Rodman expects the Department of Labor to issue guidance on the law’s provisions about nursing.
The law applies to women who breast-feed for up to one year after the child’s birth.
Many large employers have private space for breast-feeding mothers.
“We have had a private room for breast-feeding mothers for quite some time,” said Judy Joffe, spokeswoman for NCCI, an insurance data firm in Boca Raton, Fla.
Small- and medium-size employers that have not created such private spaces will have to make an accommodation if they have a request from a breast-feeding mother.
The law likely applies to small employers because, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, an employer is “covered” if it is engaged in interstate commerce, which includes taking credit cards or wiring money.
The law doesn’t specify how many times during the day or how many times a week breast-feeding mothers can take breaks to express milk.