• New Law Affecting Illinois Employers
  • September 29, 2003 | Author: Michael L. Sullivan
  • Law Firm: Goldberg, Kohn, Bell, Black, Rosenbloom & Moritz, Ltd. - Chicago Office
  • A new Illinois law went into effect this month which requires certain employers to provide unpaid break time for nursing mothers to express breast milk for an infant. Under the Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act, most Illinois employers of five or more employees must provide reasonable, unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for an infant child. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide break time, however, if "to do so would unduly disrupt the employer's operations."

    The law also requires employers to "make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall," where covered employees can express their breast milk in private.

    Certain small and family businesses are exempt from the law. The term "employer" is defined to include "any individual, corporation, partnership, labor organization, or unincorporated association, the State, an agency or political subdivision of the State, or any other legal, business, or commercial entity that has more than 5 employees exclusive of the employer's parent, spouse, or child or other members of the employer's immediate family."

    The new law raises several unanswered questions. It is silent on whether employees who feel their rights have been violated will be able to sue employers directly, or whether they will be required to file a claim with an agency such as the Illinois Department of Labor. Questions of what an employer must prove to show that compliance with the law would "unduly disrupt" operations and what constitutes a "reasonable effort" to provide a private room will likely arise. Finally, although the law requires unpaid break time, it is unlikely that employers will be allowed to dock exempt employees' pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act for any extra break time spent expressing milk.