A subgroup of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy childhood has recently announced that there should be amendments made to the Equality Act 2010 to better accommodate new mothers’ breastfeeding habits at work. The group suggests that it should be made compulsory for all employers to have a formal written policy on breastfeeding, as well as paid breaks and facilities which enable mothers to feed and store milk.
What is the current law on breastfeeding at work?
There is currently nothing in the law that protects the right to breastfeed at work. Although the Equality Act 2010 stipulates that it is ‘unlawful for a business to discriminate against a woman because she is breastfeeding a child’, it does not demand employers provide facilities which accommodate breastfeeding, such as the expression of milk for later storage or paid breaks.
What are the implications if the current legal position remains?
It is an inevitable reality many mothers will return to work while they are still breastfeeding. This is common in our society where many women have the difficult task of juggling a successful career with a healthy family life. After all, around one million women take maternity leave each year.
In considering the case of a modern mother such as Helen Williams, it becomes apparent the main consequence if the legal position remains is that women may be open to a higher risk of gender discrimination. After initially winning her sex discrimination case against her employer (the RAF) regarding their restrictions on breastfeeding, Helen eventually went on to lose when the Employment Appeal tribunal held that an employer is not required to allow time off to breastfeed, and that it would be unfair to expect an employer to do so.
This is all well and good but many mothers will want to breastfeed while returning to work, especially as there are proven benefits of doing it as opposed to bottle feeding. Studies by the World Health Organisation (WHO) among others, have suggested that infants who are breast fed beyond six months are less likely to contract illnesses, and are more likely at the age of five to have a higher intelligence level. Similarly, Department of Health guidelines state children should be breast-fed for at least six months due to the obvious health benefits.
What about the future?
It seems the law does need to be addressed to better accommodate the habits of modern day mothers. There is current guidance given by ACAS in their publication ‘Accommodating breastfeeding employees in the workplace’, which advocates that encouraging breastfeeding makes employees more loyal and encourages skilled workers to return to work earlier.
- Consider having a breastfeeding at work policy
- Consider having paid breaks, or a break allowance to express milk
- Provide clean and hygienic facilities so women can express milk easily
- Provide a clean, separate and secure fridge for expressed milk
- Be understanding of the need for flexible working hours
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