60% of employers don’t know staff breastfeeding rights

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

October 05 2021

Do you know what rights mothers have to breastfeed at work?

A whopping 60 percent of employers don’t…  

We surveyed 48,973 employers across four countries – Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the UK – to look at attitudes on breastfeeding in the workplace.

Read on to see the results and discover how you can support staff in line with the law.

A fairly positive response…

Our survey revealed that most employers feel positively about staff breastfeeding in the workplace. 

However, with only 43% of UK bosses ‘completely’ happy with it, it’s likely that women still face challenges at work.

And if that puts staff at a disadvantage, it could be indirect sex discrimination. Not to mention the impact on employee wellbeing and morale…

So, if your employees are breastfeeding, you should do all you can to create a welcoming environment.

First, find a discreet space

Despite most employers saying they support breastfeeding at work, only 22% of UK workplaces offer a dedicated spot to feed.

However, according to Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, breastfeeding staff are legally entitled to rest facilities.

And not just any rest facilities – the space should be big enough for them to rest and lie down. That means toilets or desk spaces aren’t enough to meet the minimum requirement.

The HSE recommends that it’s good practice for employers to find a private and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk.

But if you have a small workplace, you might not have enough space to use as a dedicated breastfeeding room. In this case, you could use a lockable room – and you can make this private by covering up the windows or doors.

Another thing to consider is space to store expressed milk. While you might have a communal fridge, women could feel uncomfortable using this space. Instead, you could create a dedicated area or space within the shared fridge – like a discreet cool box or sealable container.

Take further measures to offer support

Shockingly, 80% of UK employers won’t introduce extra support for breastfeeding staff.

And without enough support, women could feel uncomfortable at work. Which could mean discrimination claims, a high turnover, and a bad workplace morale…

So, to create a supportive workplace, consider providing extra rest breaks for breastfeeding staff. This gives staff more time to express milk. Plus, women could feel more comfortable taking time out if they know they’re entitled to extra breaks - so make this clear once your employee returns from maternity leave. 

If this isn’t possible, you could move or extend current breaks, or split current breaks into shorter periods across the day.

Additionally, some women might want to change their working pattern to continue breastfeeding. Whether it’s a different shift time or part-time working, any employee with over 26 weeks’ service can make a flexible working request.

And unless you have a solid business reason, you should accept their request. But before you update their contract, check whether your employee wants to change their working pattern permanently or just while they continue breastfeeding. 

Talking about breastfeeding

When staff feel supported on their return to work, they find it easier to re-adjust to the workplace.

So, to support your staff, it’s important to talk to them before their maternity leave ends. This gives you chance to understand their back-to-work needs – including any breastfeeding requirements.

It also gives you more time to make any adjustments or update your risk assessment in time.

Discussing a topic like breastfeeding can feel uncomfortable. But if managers have training in handling sensitive topics, they can approach the topic more confidently. Or, you can ask your employee if they’d like to speak to a specific member of staff – like a female line manager.

Understand the law

A huge 60 percent of employers don’t know the laws around breastfeeding at work.

Along with providing an appropriate space for mums to rest, you also need to keep the Equality Act 2010 in mind.

That’s because your policies could work against breastfeeding staff. For example, refusing longer or more frequent breaks could amount to indirect sex discrimination. And since that means you’re breaching the Equality Act, you could face staff grievances.  

Which is why it’s important to review your policies with breastfeeding staff in mind…

Create a supportive workplace with Peninsula

From reviewing your policies to helping you handle sensitive conversations, Peninsula is here to help. With unlimited HR and health & safety support, you can:

  • Handle any sensitive conversations with unlimited HR advice
  • Update your risk assessment to support breastfeeding staff
  • Reduce legal risk with employment law support

Not yet a Peninsula client? Discover an affordable HR or health & safety package for your business.

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