Reform Alert - News from the Blues' Office of National Health Reform

Employers must allow breastfeeding breaks under health reform

Dec. 22, 2010

One of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s lesser-known provisions will be among its widest reaching, making it easier for nursing mothers to express milk while at work.

Under federal health care reform, employers must provide unpaid, reasonable break periods and a private place where nursing mothers can express breast milk as frequently as needed. The space cannot be a bathroom and must be clean and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. The requirement applies up until the child’s first birthday. 

The law applies to all employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act - generally meaning workers who are subject to overtime pay laws. It does not apply to salaried workers who are exempt from overtime pay, such as those in management positions, although employers may choose to provide reasonable break times. 

Employers with fewer than 50 workers are exempt if the requirement would "impose an undue hardship" based on the business' size, financial resources and other factors. The undue hardship standard has traditionally been a high one to meet.

The law went into effect with the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, but rules for enforcement are not yet in place. The Department of Labor is expected to clarify the terms "reasonable break time" and "significant difficulty or expenses" used in the law.

While nearly half of all states currently have laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace, state law in Michigan only exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws. 

The new federal law will provide a minimum level of support for lactating mothers in all states, but it doesn’t supersede laws in states with stronger protections.

The information on this website is based on BCBSM's review of the national health care reform legislation and is not intended to impart legal advice. Interpretations of the reform legislation vary, and efforts will be made to present and update accurate information. This overview is intended as an educational tool only and does not replace a more rigorous review of the law's applicability to individual circumstances and attendant legal counsel and should not be relied upon as legal or compliance advice. Analysis is ongoing and additional guidance is also anticipated from the Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, some reform regulations may differ for particular members enrolled in certain programs such as the Federal Employee Program, and those members are encouraged to consult with their benefit administrators for specific details.