Employers have certain obligations towards employees who are breastfeeding. This does vary depending on the size of the organisation, however, in the main, employers should have at the minimum, a basic leaflet explaining what they can provide, and what they expect from employees.
Remember, as an employer it is up to you to risk assess the area your employee is returning to and to make sure you can provide suitable facilities for breastfeeding employees to rest. If you require further guidance the Heath and Safety Executive has an easy-to-use list of dos and don’ts.
What can an employer do?
Ensure an employee is aware that if they want to breastfeed while working they must tell the employer in writing in advance. Make this question part of your keeping in touch kit. This will enable both parties to be prepared. Make sure your employee is aware of this before they begin maternity leave.
To maintain transparency and consistency for all employees, and to ensure line managers are aware of their duties, it is advisable that employers have a document or even a policy to explain the basics such as:
- break allowances so the employee can express milk
- not forcing a time limit on the breastfeeding employee
- a space for the breastfeeding employee to rest
- provision of a clean, private room for expressing
- availability of a fridge for storage
- terms of asking for/applying for flexible working
- what to do in the event that facilities are not available
- what provisions you can make if an employee has to work in another area/off site/go for a training event – you are obliged to make sure they do not miss out on workplace development opportunities just because they are breastfeeding
- who to contact for advice.
Top 5 ways to avoid disagreements
- Ensure you consider a request for breastfeeding as you would for a temporary change to working conditions from any employee for any reason.
- Avoid misunderstandings by keeping a log of everything you have reviewed and agreed with the employee. Remember, if you have reviewed the request (e.g. flexible working) objectively and are still not able to accommodate the request due to business/operational issues, you need to be able to provide a robust reason otherwise it can constitute discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
- Remember to talk to your team about the fact that flexible arrangements will be in place for the breastfeeding employee. Explain why this is important.
- Ensure that you get regular feedback from the breastfeeding employee to see where improvements can be made.
- Be alert to inappropriate behaviour towards an employee who is breastfeeding. Be alert to office banter – prevent this by educating staff about your bullying policy.
What kinds of options are there for employees?
- Take responsibility and maintain contact with your employer prior to returning to work so you can come to a mutually agreeable arrangement with minimal disruption to your employer and your self.
- Negotiate flexible working hours arranged around breastfeeding.
- Express milk (taking milk from the breast by hand or using a pump) and storing it for later use.
- Arrange for childcare to be close to work so you can breastfeed during breaks.
- if you have decided to express milk by hand or by pump, ensure you test this out before returning to work and ask your employer if they have a fridge that can be used for storage. Remember, you can build up a store of expressed milk to have in reserve to reduce pressure on yourself on your first few days back at work.
- Remember that you are in a workplace and you need to accommodate the needs of others too. To help, make sure to use the designated area/room to express milk.