I have a young child who I am still breastfeeding. He has a severe health condition. I had a meeting at work with my line manager and HR who have asked for a timescale with regards to breastfeeding and when I am going to stop as currently I am not fulfilling my role as I am not allowed in the department while breastfeeding. I wasn’t allowed in while pregnant either and they knew I was breastfeeding when I returned. They want to know if I’m breastfeeding for personal or medical reasons. I left feeling very disheartened and pressured to stop feeding. They have said if I am not likely to stop soon they will have to re-evaluate my role and flexible working hours. Can they reduce my pay? Any advice on this matter is appreciated.
An employee who wishes to breastfeed and who, as a result, requires certain adjustments to their working conditions is entitled to make a flexible working request. An employer is not obliged to grant a flexible working request, but it is obliged to give consideration to it. An employer is also not obliged to grant permanent variations to an employee’s working conditions where such a variation would have a detrimental effect on the business. An employer can reasonably expect that any flexible working request relating to breastfeeding will be temporary in nature only and is entitled to make business decisions on this basis.
A breastfeeding employee is entitled to continue feeding for as long as they wish. However, if the working arrangement in place to accommodate the feeding becomes detrimental to the business, the business is entitled to review it. If your employer is in the position where the current arrangement which sees you being unable to enter into your usual department is becoming detrimental then it is entitled to review the current arrangement in the context of your duties. It may very well be that this review could impact upon your existing role and your existing salary, although your employer would need to discuss any proposals with you before implementing them. Through discussion with you, your employer should seek to make an objective decision about your current working arrangement and explain any business reasons upon which it intends to rely should it seek to make changes to the current working arrangement to you. It would also be best practice for your employer to discuss what other supportive measures might be available to help you to continue with your breastfeeding. Depending on the process you have followed to date in terms of the adjustments to your role, you may have a right of appeal against any decision made.
If you are feeding for a medical reason which is related to yourself, as opposed to your baby, then you may be afforded protection under the Equality Act 2010 if you suffer from a medical condition that is capable of being classed as a disability. In this situation, your employer would need to consider what reasonable adjustments it could make to enable you to continue breastfeeding in line with the current working arrangement.
*Charlotte Geesin is Legal Director of Howarths, a Yorkshire based, award-winning Employment Law, HR, Business Immigration and Health & Safety provider for SMEs across the UK.