Medical research indicates that breastfeeding assists in the development of babies. Whilst you may wish to breastfeed your baby, you may be put off doing so without your employer’s support in enabling you to continue breastfeeding when at work.
A recent parliamentary report states that the law should be changed so that new mothers get more support in the workplace. This follows frequent campaigns on this issue by groups such as Maternity Action and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) amongst others.
The report proposes that mothers get paid breaks in which they can breastfeed and also that employers provide facilities where mothers can breastfeed and store milk. There is currently no legal (statutory) right to time off work for breastfeeding. There is also no legislation which requires the provision of facilities for breastfeeding itself. However, guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that other facilities such as a private, clean environment, other than the toilets, for expressing milk, and a fridge for storing it, should be provided. Whilst the HSE guidance is positive, support for breastfeeding mothers is not a legal requirement.
Over the last ten years, there have been various attempts to outlaw discrimination against mothers who breastfeed in public. In May 2007, the Breastfeeding Manifesto Coalition, comprised of over 30 organisations (including trade unions, Medical Royal Colleges and charities) lobbied the Government to allow mothers to breastfeed in public and to legislate for breastfeeding breaks for women at work.
It seems that the lobbying appears to have been partially successful.
Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010 amended the law so that less favourable treatment of women because they are breastfeeding is classed as direct discrimination. However, this law change does not apply to apply to discrimination at work.
The recent Parliamentary report suggests amendments to the Equality Act 2010 which would make it obligatory for employers to have a formal written policy on breastfeeding and also make paid breaks mandatory. This would bring the UK up to speed with other European countries who give working mothers with a baby less than a year old the right to paid breastfeeding breaks or a shorter working day. If these changes are implemented it could decrease the number of mothers giving up breastfeeding upon their return to work. This change is likely to be welcomed by mothers across the UK, especially those who plan to return to work early by sharing their leave with their spouse/partner, under the new Shared Parental Leave regime.
If you feel you have been discriminated against because of your maternity/pregnancy status, you might have a Maternity Discrimination Case and should seek legal advice.
Marsha Thompson is an Employment Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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