Breastfeeding in the workplace
Many women choose to breastfeed their children past the age of 12 months due to the evidence of positive health effects for the baby. Simultaneously it is becoming increasingly common for women to return to work earlier than previous years following the birth of a child.
Employers should be aware that breastfeeding mothers that return to work, while they may be separated from their baby during the working day may still need to express breast milk at regular intervals.
There are two pieces of legislation that make it unlawful to discriminate based on the ground of breastfeeding. The Equal Opportunity Act 1984 includes discrimination against someone who is breastfeeding or bottle feeding an infant or proposing to do so.
Section 7AA of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 has been amended to make discrimination against a breastfeeding woman unlawful if she is being treated less favourably than a person who is not breastfeeding. Discrimination can also occur if the employer imposes a practice or rule that will directly or indirectly disadvantage breastfeeding women.
Hence both the Equal Opportunity Act and the Sex Discrimination Act make it unlawful to discriminate because of a characteristic that generally pertains to or is attributed to someone who is breastfeeding. For example, providing all employees with a 10 minute morning tea break may disproportionately affect a breastfeeding mother who may need a 30 minute tea break to express milk.
Employers that have provided additional breaks to employees to allow them to breastfeed or express breast milk have reported a number of benefits for both parties through the implementation of policies that balance work and breastfeeding.
The benefits to employers include:
- increase in staff morale and loyalty
- attract and retain staff by offering family-friendly and flexible work practices
- increasing rates of return after maternity leave thus reducing skills loss and recruitment costs
- reduced absenteeism to care for child due to proven lower rate of illnesses in breastfed babies.
The benefits to employees include:
- increased sense of value as an employee
- emotional well-being related to maintaining a physical and emotional connection to their baby
- physical well-being due to reduced discomfort
- being able to continue their work while also fulfilling their commitment to their baby
- longer breastfeeding period with health benefits for their baby.
If employees will be able to access lactating breaks employers will need to ensure there are clean and private facilities that the employee can occupy while breastfeeding or expressing their breast milk. A fridge must be available to store expressed milk as well as private and secure storage facilities for any equipment used (eg breast pump).
Frequency of breaks
While two 30 minute breaks per day may be sufficient for some, others may require more frequent breaks, or breaks that may be slightly longer in duration. Reasonable requests should be granted to avoid discrimination issues.
Remember, the period of time that an employee will access these additional breaks is relatively short in respect to her working career and the provision of additional breaks for a short amount of time should not drastically impact on the business functioning.
On or off premises
Some mothers enroll their babies into day care that is close to their work so that they can breastfeed during their lunch breaks. If lactating breaks are provided then the employee may leave the premises to breastfeed their baby in reasonable circumstances.
Through implementing family friendly and work-life balance policies, employers are able to attract and retain staff and maintain a loyal and more productive workforce.
For more information, contact the Employee Relations Advice Centre on (08) 9365 7660 or email: email@example.com.