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Any Answers: Breastfeeding at work

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Kam Bains, HR Consultant at Higgs and Sons Solicitors responds to an Any Answers posting about breastfeeding in the workplace.



The question:
An employee has returned from maternity leave and is breast feeding and hence needs to express during the day, is there a legal requirement to allow her extra time to express or should it be conducted during her own time?

We currently have no policy and have not had to deal with this situation before.

Ann-Marie Vinnicombe

Member’s response:
There are currently no statutory obligations on an employer to allow an employee time off during work hours to express breast milk, or, to provide facilities for the same.

Accordingly, an employer could insist that the employee should only express milk during her break times, and, could even go as far as insisting that this is done outside of the workplace where there is no suitable space within the workplace. If however the employer allowed male employees time off for child care matters (outside of the statutory entitlement to parental leave), a refusal to make the same allowance for a female employee would be direct sex discrimination.

An employee denied time off during work hours to express could make a request for a variation to her working hours. The employee could potentially claim indirect sex discrimination if the employer refused this request without good justification. In addition, subject to having 26 weeks continuous service, the employee could make a statutory request for a variation of hours under the Flexible Working Regulations 2002 and could pursue claims, including sex discrimination, if the request was unreasonably refused.

Do you agree? Have you had a similar request? Please share your experiences with the HR Zone community by posting in the comments box below.

One Response

  1. Flexibility needed
    Whilst Kam’s reply focuses on the legal aspects, can I add a plea for flexibility?

    Expressing milk is not an exact science that can be timetabled in the same way as other activities – the discomfort of engorged breasts is likely to affect work performance so surely a common sense approach appropriate to the individual circumstances can be agreed (ideally this should have been done as part of the transition back to work arrangements).

    The new ‘keeping in touch days’ are likely to increase the incidents of new mothers neding to express milk at work so organsiations are going to need at least a protocol for handling, if not a formal policy.

    Best wishes with the case

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