Some restaurant employers are scrambling to provide new accommodations for nursing mothers to satisfy a little known requirement in the federal health care reform enacted in March.
Specifically, all employers are required to provide a private place for nursing mothers to express milk effective immediately, according to legal experts.
"The requirements of the new law are quite simple: A mother who is nursing her child is entitled to take reasonable breaks each time she needs to express milk, and her employer must provide a private place--other than a bathroom--to do so," said Cara E. Greene, a lawyer with Outten & Golden LLP in New York.
The definition of "private place" is one "shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public," she said.
While some operators expressed concern about adequately meeting the requirement, others said they already have such designated areas.
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Other operators said they have taken extra steps to provide secure areas for files and documents in managers' offices before turning such spaces into an area for expressing.
Greene said all employers fall under the law, no matter their size. However, she said, employers who have fewer than 50 employees do not have to comply if they can show that it would cause them an undue hardship "by causing significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature or structure of the employer's business."
Section 4207 of the health care reform bill makes national what was already a requirement in nearly half of the country, Greene noted.
"The requirements of the law are not all that novel," Greene said."Twenty-four states already have similar laws on the books. For instance, in 2007, New York implemented New York Labor Law 206-c, which requires employers to make a reasonable attempt to provide a private location for employees to express milk."
She said concerns were raised at the time in New York "that small coffee shops and restaurants would not be able to comply with the law, but with a little ingenuity and flexibility, they were able to find a way.
"For instance, most restaurants have a manager's office that can be used for the minutes it takes to pump milk, or adjoining workplace scan make arrangements to share space," she said.
Greene said the U.S. Labor Department would be issuing regulations to provide employers guidance on how to comply with the law.
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