Breastfeeding at work - What employers need to consider

Alan Price – CEO at BrightHR

August 30 2016

There is currently no legislation in place requiring employers to provide suitable facilities for an employee to be able to breastfeed or express milk. However, a new government initiative urges employers to take a more progressive approach towards women who return to work after having a baby as part of a wider plan to prevent discrimination against pregnant women and new workers. Whilst there is no legal right to time off for this purpose or for the employee to be paid where employers do allow time off, it may be good practice to have a policy which allows for this in order to foster good relations and for the employee to feel supported in their return to work. So what things do you need to consider? A private room should be provided where breastfeeding or expressing milk can take place and secure, clean refrigerators should be provided for the storage of expressed milk.  In addition, facilities for washing and sterilising the storage receptacles should be provided. Toilets, WCs, are not considered suitable for this purpose. Alternatively, if the employee lives close to work, it may be appropriate to allow her to go home to breastfeed. It might be helpful to consider a flexible working request to cover the time needed for this. In addition, during pregnancy and when breastfeeding the nutritional requirements of the woman should be considered. Particular needs concerning the frequency, timing and duration of rest, meal and refreshment breaks should be discussed with the individual concerned and reviewed regularly, particularly during pregnancy. Unreasonable refusal to allow time off for breastfeeding may, in extreme circumstances, amount to sex discrimination unless you have considered objectively whether it is viable. Consideration of the issue would involve speaking to the employee to see if agreement can be reached. However, if it is not possible to reach agreement because there would be an unacceptable impact on your business, then it is unlikely that the refusal will constitute sex discrimination.

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