BREASTFEEDING IN THE WORKPLACE – HR TOP TIPS
We know that breastfeeding is a sensitive issue which can spark a heated debate, so the purpose of this blog is to make sure that all employers know and understand what the law says about breastfeeding in the workplace and what your obligations as an employer are.
(1) MAKING A REQUEST
It’s always a good idea to ask an employee to put any request to make a change which affects how they will work in writing, detailing what they would like to happen.
It would be even better if they think about how their request might affect the workplace and what would they suggest can be done to address any impact. For example, if you don’t yet have a designated place for breastfeeding, perhaps the employee is able to suggest somewhere.
Dealing with requests in this way also enables you to keep a written record of the request and your decision making process.
(2) MAKING THE DECISION
As an employer you should deal with all requests from employees, including those relating to maternity/ breastfeeding issues in the same manner.
Deal with all requests:
- Equally, fairly and reasonably
- By reaching decisions objectively, using the same method and take the same things into account for each type of decision
- After input from the employee who made the request. Arrange a private meeting to do this and, although it is not a legal requirement, allow the employee to be accompanied if they wish.
- After input from other employees to see how they might be able to help the changes to take place. Doing this will mean they are much more likely to be on-board.
- After having considered the impact on your business including, of course, other workers
Unlike some requests (such as flexible working requests) there are no specific time limits laid down in law but you should aim to make a decision within a reasonable time, particularly given the nature of the employee’s request.
(3) PRACTICALITIES – WHERE AND WHEN
There are two main issues which often concern employers
- where and
to accommodate breastfeeding in the workplace
The law makes it clear that the employee who is breastfeeding will need a place which is
Provided it meets these criteria, it doesn’t have to be a designated place (i.e. a specific breastfeeding room). So, for example, an unused office would be fine. On the other hand, toilets or a dirty storage area would be unacceptable.
The employee will need to take breaks to breastfeed and all of you, the employer, employee and colleagues should work together to consider and accommodate this.
Of course it will depend on the job role and working environment, but it would be reasonable to ask the employee to avoid breastfeeding during the busiest time at work and to relax rules about visitors in the workplace such as to accommodate someone bringing the baby to the workplace.
Other things to bear in mind
If an employee is expressing breast milk then they will need a fridge to store it in.
You can refuse and you don’t have to give reasons for your decision, but it’s a good idea to do so because it will help the employee to understand how you made the decision. However, do take care that you are refusing
- For appropriate reasons (you do not want to find yourself at the end of an Equality Act claim based on sex discrimination)
- After trying to reach a sensible solution. For example, if it would be unsafe in your working environment, can the employee take a short break and go home or to where the baby is being cared for?
any employee will make the request in the hope that it will be granted but, if you can show that you made an objective and fair decision after trying to accommodate the request, then it’s more likely that the employee will understand and accept a refusal.
(5) DON’T WAIT – DEAL WITH THE ISSUE NOW
Surprises are lovely, but best reserved for celebrations!
Instead of waiting until something happens, pre-empt all the issues which are likely to occur in the workplace and put a policy in place to cover breastfeeding.
- Mean that everyone knows exactly where they stand
- Are also a great opportunity to talk to all employees and get their input and support. Employees are much more likely to be “on board” if they’ve had the opportunity to be involved.
If you need help with writing or implementing any HR policies email us at [email protected] talk to us on 01244 300413