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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?
Your employer must carry out a proper breastfeeding risk assessment in consultation with you once you tell them that you want to continue breastfeeding. And your employer must make appropriate adjustments to support your breastfeeding, again in consultation with you. It would be direct sex discrimination for your employer not to do this. This was established in an important ruling of the European Court of Justice, Otero-Ramos v Servicio Galego de Saude .
Your employer must conduct this risk assessment during pregnancy, breastfeeding or within six months of giving birth. If the risks cannot be avoided with reasonable adjustments, you must be offered suitable alternative work. If there is none, you must be offered a maternity suspension on full pay while the risk remains.
Risks to a breastfeeding woman or her baby include contact with chemicals and other harmful substances, and physical risks such as mastitis and engorgement. To avoid these risks, your employer should consider breaks for breastfeeding or to express milk and/or flexible working, with hours shortened or adjusted to make breastfeeding possible, combined with home working where appropriate.
Make sure any arrangements are clearly agreed to be temporary, so that you can return to your normal working pattern once you are ready. Remember that a statutory flexible working arrangement (such as a cut in hours) will normally be regarded as permanent unless you clearly agreed something different with your employer, when putting the arrangements in place. 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 spelling out, for the avoidance of doubt, that "it is not suitable for you to use toilets for expressing milk”. HSE advice about breastfeeding at work.
In 2016, 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 or harassment. 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.