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Discrimination against Breastfeeding Mums – The easyJet Case
There has been much in the media recently to suggest that many pregnant women and new mothers are suffering from discrimination in the way they are treated by their employers. In fact the Women and Equalities Committee has reported that the number of new and expectant mothers forced to leave their jobs has doubled since 2005. Such problems do not only apply to dealing with a pregnant employee and keeping her job for her on return – but what happens when she returns.

A recent case against easyJet found that two mothers had been indirectly discriminated against. As cabin crew, they had asked to be rostered for a maximum of eight hours so they could make arrangements to feed their babies either side of their shifts. But while the employer had said that breastfeeding employees could carry out ground duties for six months, it was unwilling to extend this period, saying that feeding beyond that was a choice.

The employees raised tribunal claims and an employment tribunal found the employer had indirectly discriminated against them. The judgment, which is not binding on other tribunals and could yet be appealed, highlights that breastfeeding mothers do have some rights in the workplace even though there is a lack of specific legislation governing their working hours.

For example, there are health and safety regulations concerning the treatment of breastfeeding women at work: employers should provide somewhere for them to rest and lie down – toilet facilities will not meet these requirements. Employers must also provide adequate rest breaks, but that does not extend to granting breastfeeding women extra break time. There is a general requirement to facilitate employees’ breast feeding: if an employer refuses to do this, it may face a claim of indirect discrimination, as the airline did in this case. And while there is no specific requirement to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, employers should consider whether one is required anyway.

If you need advice on how to make arrangements for a returning mother, please get in touch.
Posted on 19 Nov 2016


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