Late last month, Gov. Rauner signed into law, amendments to the Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act, which expand benefits to nursing mothers in the first year after childbirth. While the Act has always secured the right of nursing mothers to take reasonable breaks to express milk or breast feed during their work day, the amended Act requires that these breaks now must be paid time.
Additionally, while the original language of the Act provided that breaks for expressing milk or breast feeding must run concurrently with breaks already provided to the employee, the amended Act states that these breaks may run concurrently with other breaks in the work day, giving nursing mothers more flexibility for either breast feeding or expressing milk while they are at work.
The amended Act only applies to employers with five or more employees and working mothers are only entitled to its benefits for one year after the birth of the child.
Employers are relieved of their obligations under the amended Act if providing the paid break times creates an “undue hardship” as defined in the Illinois Human Rights Act. Under the IHRA, an employer is not required to provide an otherwise reasonable accommodation to a disabled or pregnant employee if it is prohibitively expensive or disruptive considering the 1) number of employees; 2) the overall financial resources at the facility; 3) the overall financial resources of the employer and its size; and 4) the type of operations.
Like other instances where an employer denies an accommodation based on undue hardship, it will be the employer’s burden to show the hardship. Whenever employers claim that an accommodation is not reasonable because of an undue hardship, they should carefully document the reasons for that conclusion with as great of specificity as possible.