In January 2014, ACAS published a Guide called “Accommodating Breastfeeding Employees in the Workplace”. It sets out legal requirements and good practice for employers managing requests from employees to breastfeed in the workplace.
The law requires an employer to provide somewhere for a breastfeeding employee to rest and this includes being able to lie down. There is no absolute requirement for an employer to grant breaks for breastfeeding or to express milk for later use, but a refusal could amount to indirect sex discrimination. In any potential claim, it would therefore be for the employer to show that the policy of not granting breaks was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
To that end, the Guide urges employers to “consider a request for breastfeeding as you would for a temporary change to working conditions from any employee for any reason.” Employers will be better protected where they have considered the request objectively, discussed it with the employee and explained why breaks would have an unacceptable impact on the business. The Guide recommends keeping a short note of any such meetings.
It also points out the business sense of facilitating breastfeeding at work: it can encourage staff loyalty and enable an earlier return to work for some employees. It may also benefit the health of the employee by preventing problems such as mastitis.
Although not a formal requirement, the Guide recommends that employers have a policy in place to ensure that requests are managed fairly and employees know what to expect. Steps should also be taken to ensure that co-workers behave sensitively: the Guide contains an example of a male colleague who is warned not to engage in banter at the expenses of a breastfeeding employee on the grounds that it could amount to harassment.
Providing private and hygienic facilities is also important and may require the employer to make small adjustments to the workplace. An example is given of a truck driver who is provided with a curtain she can clip around the cab of her lorry so that she can express milk during her breaks.
Finally, the Guide warns that it may be unwise to limit the period of time for which the breastfeeding arrangements are in place. It is difficult for any woman to predict how long she will be breastfeeding and attempts to restrict it may cause her undue stress.