Supporting breastfeeding in the workplace

6 Aug 2014
Author: Andrea Twaddle
 
For most women, returning to work after having a child is a challenging transition. It can be made more so if there is a lack of support for breastfeeding upon returning to work. Commonly, this stems from a lack of understanding by employers, rather than deliberate obstruction to facilitate breastfeeding. However, enabling women with this right is relatively simple and being World Breastfeeding week, this column outlines the basic rights and obligations regarding breastfeeding arrangements.

The Employment Relations Act requires employers to provide breaks, and facilities, for employees who wish to breastfeed during work hours. There is a Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding that sets out how to best implement breastfeeding arrangements. Breastfeeding includes feeding and expressing.

To facilitate breastfeeding, employees should negotiate arrangements with their employers. Employers need to provide a hygienic, private space, such as a room that can be locked. The employee will need a comfortable chair. Toilets are not an acceptable place to breastfeed or express breast milk. In addition to being unsanitary, they are inappropriate in some cultures. For those using an electric breast pump, a power point will be needed, together with a fridge for storage and a place to store equipment.

At a minimum, unpaid breastfeeding breaks, in addition to meal and rest breaks, are required. However, it is open to employers and employees to agree that breaks will be paid, or to use meal and rest breaks for breastfeeding.

There are exceptions. Employers only have to provide facilities and breaks if it is “reasonable and practicable in the circumstances”. The operational environment or an employer’s limited resources may make it unreasonable and impractical to support breastfeeding.

In making a decision about what is reasonable or practicable, an employer should consider factors such as health and safety, business needs, the availability of cover, the location and nature of the employee’s work. An employer should outline any views about whether it considers the provision of breastfeeding facilities to be unreasonable or impractical, and genuinely consider any feedback from an employee about how her needs might be accommodated. Employees may want to review websites such as Breastmates.co.nz where others have provided practical tips and solutions that were effective in their workplaces. Communication is crucial to the effective accommodation and introduction of practical solutions to enable breastfeeding in the workplace.

Employers may be penalised if the required standards are not met. Failure to accommodate breastfeeding may also constitute sexual discrimination under the Human Rights Act.

Employers are wise to support the accommodation of breastfeeding in the workplace. Investment in breastfeeding-friendly programmes has shown a reduced turnover of staff and shorter periods of leave. Employees also report higher morale and job satisfaction. In a competitive labour market, an employer’s brand can be enhanced by the genuine and proactive steps it takes to support family-friendly work practices.

This article was first published in the Waikato Times, 6 August 2014.

 
 
 
Supporting breastfeeding in the workplace
About the Author
Andrea Twaddle
Andrea is an experienced specialist employment lawyer and Director at DTI Lawyers. She advises on contentious and non-contentious employment law issues, including privacy, and health and safety matters. Andrea is AWI-CH qualified, and undertakes complex workplace investigations. She is a former Council Member at the WBOP District Branch of the Law Society, and Coordinator of the WBOP Employment Law Committee. Andrea is a regular commentator on employment law issues and is frequently sought as a presenter at client and industry seminars, as well as for the provision of advice to other lawyers, professional advisors and leadership teams. You can contact Andrea at andrea@dtilawyers.co.nz