Women with children are the fastest-growing segment of the workforce. Six in every ten new mothers are working.  Against that backdrop, the Oregon legislature recently enacted two new laws, changing and clarifying the rules governing pregnancy and childbirth accommodations in the workplace.  Some changes took effect September 29, 2019.  Others become effective January 1, 2020.

Oregon Now Requires All Employers to Provide Lactation Breaks, Whenever Needed

The legal requirements that went into effect September 29, 2019 pertain to the length and frequency of rest periods to express milk.  Previously, Oregon required employers to provide a fixed, 30-minute break for this purpose, every four hours an employee worked.  Now, employers must provide an employee with a "reasonable rest period to express milk each time the employee has a need" to do so, until the employee's child's age reaches 18 months.  The law includes an exemption for undue hardship, but it applies only to employers with 10 or fewer employees.

This new, expanded requirement applies to all employers—regardless of size—which is a significant expansion of the law.  Previously, only larger employers (those with 25 or more employees) were subject to state and federal statutes mandating employee rest periods for expressing milk.  

Other substantive aspects of the law remain unchanged:

  • The law still requires employees to take breaks for the expression of milk at the same time as their regular rest and meal periods, when feasible. 
  • Employers are required to compensate breaks for the expression of milk to the extent they overlap with paid rest periods. 
  • If an employee needs additional breaks to express milk, such breaks may be unpaid. 
  • Employers may permit an employee to work before or after their normal shift to make up for unpaid breaks. 
  • If the employee does not make up time, however, current state administrative rules prohibit employers from requiring the use of paid leave time.

New Oregon Law Clarifies Employers' Obligation to Accommodate Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Related Conditions

Beginning January 1, 2020, Oregon law expressly requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, absent undue hardship. 

Currently, when an employee needs accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, employers must navigate a complicated patchwork of interacting state and federal laws to understand their options and obligations.  The new law gathers the rules regarding pregnancy and childbirth accommodations in one place.  The legislature drafted the law to essentially parallel the laws governing disability accommodations, in order to facilitate employer understanding and implementation. So, for example, just as is the case in the disability accommodation context, a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions may include modifying equipment, periodic rest, assisting with manual labor, or modifying work schedules.

Employers will be required to post workplace signs about these protections.  In addition, employers must provide written notice to new employees (at the time of hire), existing employees (by June 29, 2020), and any employee that informs an employer of their pregnancy (within 10 days of receiving that information from the employee).

Employers with five or fewer employees are exempt from this new law.  Note, however, that such small employers are subject to the separate requirements regarding rest periods for expression of milk summarized above.

In light of these developments, Oregon employers should review their policies and practices and consult experienced labor and employment counsel with any questions.

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