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Help to ensure mum is not left holding the baby at work

Published 30 November 2021

When Labour MP Stella Creasy took her baby to work in the Commons the issue of managing childcare and work made headline news.

Ms Creasy was told it was against the rules to bring a child to a debate at Westminster Hall [1 cited 30/11/21]

The MP for Walthamstow is still breastfeeding her three-month old son. It was not the first time she had taken him into the Commons chamber, and before him she also took her daughter in.

Conservative MP Scott Benton criticised her stance on Twitter, pointing out parents who earn a lot less pay for childcare and juggle responsibilities so they can go to work [2 cited 30/11/21]

He later tweeted: If you phoned 999 you wouldn’t expect the Police to turn up with their children in tow so why would you tune into Parliament TV and expect to see MPs with their children?

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it was ‘extremely important’ for parents to be able to participate fully in the work of the House.

He asked the Commons Procedure Committee, which makes recommendations on the practical operation of the House, to look into the matter [3 cited 30/11/21]

MPs do not get maternity leave, which can allow you to stay at home with your baby and not have to take them to work.

But working mums can return to work while still breastfeeding if they opt to do so.

A member of staff working for an employer will qualify for Statutory Maternity Leave if they are an employee (working under an employment contract) and not a ‘worker’, and if they give the employer the correct notice [4 cited 30/11/21]. It does not matter how long an employee has worked for a business, how many hours they work or how much they get paid.

Statutory maternity leave is 52 weeks, but a new mum does not have to take all of it.

So if a working mother wishes to return to the workplace quickly after giving birth, and while still breastfeeding, an employer should be supportive and accommodating.

Breast milk is recommended exclusively (with no other food or drink) for the first six months of a child's life [5 cited 30/11/21]

The ACAS guide titled Accommodating breastfeeding employees in the workplace, does state: ‘The law requires an employer to provide somewhere for a breastfeeding employee to rest and this includes being able to lie down’ [6 cited 30/11/21]

While it is a legal obligation for employers to regularly review general workplace risks, there is no legal requirement to conduct a specific, separate risk assessment for an employee returning from maternity leave who has notified her intention to breastfeed.

However, it would be good practice for an employer to do so, to help decide if any additional action needs to be taken. Guidance on these aspects of health and safety law is provided by the Health and Safety Executive [7 cited 30/11/21]

Breastfeeding can be a sensitive issue, so it is essential for an employer to understand what it can and needs to do to facilitate it in the workplace.

It is advisable for organisations to have a specific policy that covers breastfeeding. It can cover how requests for a change of working conditions would be considered, which will help to ensure fair and consistent handling of such requests.

If a breastfeeding mother wishes to express milk while at work an employer should arrange for a private, hygienic, safe and secure place where she can do so.

As part of keeping in touch days with an employee of maternity leave, an employer may receive notice that a member of staff wishes to return to work while still breastfeeding.  It provides an ideal opportunity to discuss the issue and make the necessary and suitable arrangements.

To avoid a potential claim for discrimination an employer should carefully and reasonably consider any request for support from a breastfeeding mum wishing to return to work. [8 cited 30/11/21]

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For employment law advice or if you are affected or want information and support by any of the issues in this article please give us a call. 

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