Easyjet Breastfeeding Ruling

 

Last month, in a landmark decision, the Employment Tribunal ruled that an employer’s failure to facilitate breast feeding at work amounts to indirect sex discrimination.

The ruling concerned two employees of easyJet who were not permitted to express breast milk during flights. The new mothers, on the recommendation of their GPs, asked the airline to limit their shifts to eight hours to enable them to express milk on either side of the shifts. EasyJet disregarded the recommended medical advice from its employees’ GP and rejected their request to limit their duty times. EasyJet stated that as the airline experiences unforeseen flight delays, employees may have to work beyond the eight hours.

Following a series of grievances, and after the case was lodged, the airline offered the employees’ ground duties for six months; however they still declined to reduce the working period arguing that breastfeeding after six months is a choice, not essential.

The Employment Tribunal concluded that the two employees were subjected to indirect sex discrimination and a reasonable employer ought to have reduced the employees’ working hours, found them alternative duties or suspended them on full pay.

In order to avoid costly claims, and negative publicity, employers should ensure that adequate policies and practices are implemented to reflect this new landmark ruling.

The Acas Code of Conduct explains that when employees return from maternity leave and they have notified their intention to breastfeed, it is good practice for employers to conduct specific risk assessments for these employees. If employees are supported to continue breastfeeding at work it can encourage employee loyalty and the organisation as a whole can benefit from the skills of the employee returning to work quicker than would otherwise be the case if altered working provisions were not granted.

In their training literature, easyJet apparently recognised breastfeeding as being a ‘globally recognised human right’,  however during the course of the tribunal case, it was reported that easyJet managers admitted to googling ‘breast feeding risks’ on the internet. As well as having adequate policies and procedures in place, employers should also ensure that their managers are well informed and trained on the laws governing employee rights.

Dom Bonham