A little-noticed provision of the new health care reform law requires employers to provide new mothers with “reasonable break time” to express breast milk for nursing children who are up to 12 months old. Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (P.L. 111-148), 29 U.S.C. § 207(r)(1), amends the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to require employers to allow a break each time that such an employee needs to express milk, and a place to do so, other than a bathroom, that is “shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers and the public.” Because Congress did not specify an effective date for this requirement, it went into effect March 23, 2010, when the president signed the bill.

Although the new law applies to employers of any size, those with fewer than 50 employees need not provide such breaks if they can demonstrate that doing so “would impose an undue hardship by causing the employer significant difficulty or expense when considered in relation to the size, financial resources, nature, or structure of the employer’s business.”

The law provides that employers need not compensate employees for any work time that they spend taking such breaks, an exception to the FLSA’s usual rule that breaks of less than 20 minutes must be treated as compensable time. Employers should keep in mind, however, that more generous state laws may trump that exception.

Because the law does not preempt state laws that offer greater protection for nursing mothers who work, and 24 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that apply to such employees, employers should be sure to check local law before deciding how to proceed.