The Law Q&A | Illinois, U.S. laws cover nursing at work, school

The Law Q&A | Illinois, U.S. laws cover nursing at work, school

Spring has sprung, so let's pull out of the legal closet and dust off the laws on allowing moms to breastfeed their babies at work. Are there such rules for employers under either Illinois or federal law? And are there rules for students nursing babies at school?

You betcha.

Illinois requires nearly all employers to provide reasonable break times and private spaces for nursing mothers to breastfeed or pump breast milk, for up to 1 year after the birth of their child. The nursing mother can take a break to breastfeed/pump whenever she needs to, and her pay is not to be affected. The space must not be a bathroom stall.

The space does not have to be a permanent space, so if the employer offers an office that happens to be vacant, that's OK. In any case, moms can nurse anywhere they want on the employer's premises where employees are otherwise allowed to be. This is true whether the nipple of a mom's breast is uncovered incidental to the nursing.

A mom breastfeeding in a place of worship is to "comport her behavior with the norms appropriate in that place of worship." Artful vagueness there by the General Assembly, wouldn't you agree?

The Illinois employer does not have to comply with this law if the employer has five or fewer employees (not counting family members of employer), or if it is shown by the employer that it would be an undue hardship to comply. Undue hardship means it is prohibitively expensive or disruptive given the overall financial resources, overhead and nature of the business and its job site, and cost of the accommodation.

As of June 1, 2019, every Illinois courthouse must provide a private space for both employees and the public to breastfeed or pump. Thereto the private space cannot be a bathroom stall.

If a nursing mom is called for jury duty, she can ask to be excused because she is a nursing mother.

Nursing mothers who are pupils in public schools shall also be provided reasonable breaks and a private space to breastfeed or pump. The private space, too, cannot be a bathroom stall. They must have access to a refrigerator to store the expressed milk. The student must not be academically penalized and must be given the opportunity to make up missed academic work caused by nursing breaks.

Federal law is much the same as Illinois'. However, federal law says that no extra break time need be given if the employer has fewer than 50 employees and if the employer shows such requirement creates an undue hardship (again, using the factors of the business' financial resources, costs and the nature of operations).

If an employer violates either the Illinois or federal law, the mom can go to court and get a judge to order the employer to comply, and the employer must pay her attorney's fees and other court costs.

Excuse me while I prepare next week's column.

I need to find a bathroom stall where I nurse my best ideas for topics on the law.

Brett Kepley is a lawyer with Land of Lincoln Legal Aid Inc. You can send your questions to The Law Q&A, 302 N. First St., Champaign, IL 61820. Questions may be edited for space.