Failing to assist with breastfeeding resulted in discrimination

A teacher was a victim of harassment related to sex after she was made to express milk in the toilets or her car when working at the school, an employment tribunal has ruled, saying that this had the effect of “creating a degrading or humiliating environment” for the employee.

Prior to her return to work, the employee had asked for access to a room to enable her to express regularly when she returned. The tribunal concluded there were no measures put in place to support this. At the tribunal, the school’s principal told the tribunal there were lots of free rooms, implying that there were many rooms out of use which the employee could have used to express milk at her discretion. However, the tribunal rejected this and said it would not be reasonable to expect her to “just wander into rooms at random”, particularly in the context of a pandemic.

The tribunal found that the employee “genuinely and reasonably had no choice but to use the toilets or her car to express” and had made the school aware on numerous occasions but nowhere was provided. As a result, the tribunal ruled that the claim of harassment was successful and the school failed to respond to the employee’s requests.

Employers must engage with breastfeeding staff to discuss what their requirements are, as failure to do this may result in claims of harassment. While there are no specific rules that say employers have to let their employees breastfeed at work, there is the risk of discrimination or harassment claims being raised if there aren’t genuine reasons why they can’t do this. Toilets will not automatically be seen as suitable facilities for breastfeeding or expressing.

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