I want to carry on breastfeeding my baby for as long as possible. What rights do I have which will help me to do this?

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful for an employer to treat you unfavourably because you are breastfeeding.

The charity Maternity Action has produced useful advice on continuing to breastfeed after you go back to work.

You should ensure your employer has written notification that you are breastfeeding so that in the health and safety risk assessment can take account of the particular risks to you and your baby while you are breastfeeding.

If your working conditions prevent you continuing to breastfeed, your baby's health will be put at risk, so your employer should allow you to make reasonable adjustments to your job, such as breaks to breastfeed or express milk, a shorter working day or an adjustment of your shifts. Working nights can disrupt breastfeeding.

Your employer also has a legal duty to provide 'suitable facilities' for a breastfeeding mother to rest.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced guidance on breastfeeding at work. It says:

"It is not suitable for you to use toilets for expressing milk. Your employer may provide a private, healthy and safe environment for you to express and store milk, although there is no legal requirement for them to do so. However, your employer is legally required to provide somewhere for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to rest and, where necessary, this should include somewhere to lie down." HSE advice about breastfeeding at work.

In 2016, a ground-breaking employment tribunal victory by two union members sent a powerful message to employers that failure to take reasonable steps to accommodate breastfeeding is likely to lead to unlawful sex discrimination. Two cabin crew members of low-cost airline easyJet won their claims for sex discrimination with the support of their union, Unite. The tribunal ruled that the airline should have limited the employees’ hours to enable them to express milk, offered them ground duties, or suspended them on full pay. The case provides support for all women, but especially those in ‘atypical’ working conditions.

If you are an employee and you suffer unfavourable treatment because of your request to breastfeed you may have a claim for sex discrimination. No minimum period of service is needed for this kind of claim.

If you are dismissed, and you believe that your post was terminated partly because of your request to breastfeed, you are likely to have a claim for automatically unfair dismissal. No service is needed for this kind of claim.

The law provides a framework of individual rights to support women who want to breastfeed. However, in reality, the best way of encouraging your employer to support breastfeeding and to provide the facilities and flexibility that make this possible is by joining together. You can then make your case collectively through a union. Use our Union Finder tool to find the most appropriate union for you.

 

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.