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Employers need to improve support for breastfeeding at work

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director - Peninsula

World Breastfeeding Week takes place in the first week of August and provides a great opportunity for employers to ask themselves if they are doing enough to support new mothers returning to the workplace.

Employers who actively offer reasonable adjustments are confirming that they are a family friendly organisation which will, in turn, make recruiting and retention easier.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, discusses the simple and cost-effective solutions available to employers:

“Firstly, it’s important that an employer approaches any employee coming back from maternity leave in the same way as they would an employee who has been on long-term sickness absence. Open and supportive conversations should be held to find out how to best support their needs, for example, will they need any adjustment to their hours, as well as asking specific questions such as do they need breastfeeding facilities etc.

“It can often be difficult for both employer and employee to discuss intimate details such as this, so I  would advise all line managers undertake training in how to carry out sensitive conversations to ensure all parties get the best possible outcome.

“There is no express law that requires an employer to give paid breaks for breastfeeding or expressing milk, however, a blanket refusal to consider requests or discuss and accommodate a workable solution could lead to claims of sex or pregnancy discrimination.

“Instead, it’s best practice for employers to treat and decide each request individually and fairly, carrying out an assessment on the steps proposed, rather than unilaterally determining a request to be unworkable.”

“Health and Safety workplace regulations stipulate that employers are required to provide suitable facilities for breastfeeding mothers, including having the ability to lie down, as well as to provide adequate rest and meal breaks.

“It is important to note that staff toilets do not qualify as an appropriate facility, as was highlighted in the recent case of Mellor v The MFG Academies Trust. Employers should look to provide employees who would like to breastfeed or express milk with a private room, where they can lock the door and make use of suitable seating and rest facilities.

“Furthermore, if employers are providing facilities to express milk they also need to consider providing facilities for storing the expressed milk. A preferable option would be to provide a separate fridge area or, if this is not possible, allocating a space within the communal fridge using a sealable container or cool box to maintain a hygienic storage space.”

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