05 August 2013

Know your duties to breastfeeding mothers

If you employ female staff, you need to know your duties and responsibilities for supporting new mothers.

This week is World Breastfeeding Week and if you employ any female staff you need to know your duties and responsibilities when it comes to supporting new mothers.

Many women are worried they may have to stop breastfeeding their child when they return to work after maternity leave. This may make them delay the date they go back to the workplace or may even make them reluctant to return to work at all.

But if their employer gives them the right support to continue for as long as they wish to, this can benefit staff morale and will ultimately be good for business.

What are your responsibilities?

Here is our guide to what employers need to know about breastfeeding:

  • As an employer you must provide any employees who are breastfeeding with a private, healthy and safe environment in which they can express and store milk. This could be anywhere from an empty office or meeting room so long as it is sufficiently private and comfortable. You cannot ask female staff to express their milk in a toilet.
  • You must also make sure there is somewhere nursing mothers can go and rest. The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s code on rights at work states businesses have a legal duty to provide breastfeeding mothers with suitable rest facilities.
  • If you refuse to allow a female employee to express milk or you will not make any adjustments to enable her to continue to breastfeed, you leave yourself vulnerable to a possible claim for unlawful sex discrimination and would need to seek professional legal advice.
  • Any employee intending to continue breastfeeding after returning to work should inform you of this in writing. Once you have received this written notification, you must carry out a specific risk assessment.
  • It is also worth remembering that you are legally required to consider any requests for flexible working from employees with children aged 16 and under. This could include staff asking to work from home or on a part-time basis. They may also ask to change the time they start and finish their working day. These requests do not have to be approved but you must give them reasonable consideration.

What are the business benefits of supporting breastfeeding?

As well as meeting your legal obligations and avoiding any potential court cases, there are good business reasons to support any member of staff who wishes to continue breastfeeding while in your employment.

  • Breastfeeding babies helps support their health and wellbeing. This means an employee is less likely to need to take time off work because their child is unwell.
  • Treating employees well raises staff morale and makes them more likely to stay loyal to your company. If you put in place a good company policy for supporting nursing mothers, employees are more likely to return to their positions after maternity leave, saving you the time and effort of trying to replace experienced workers.

The Health and Safety Executive can provide you with further advice on their website or you can call its helpline on 0845 345 0055.