Breastfeeding can be a sensitive and difficult issue for employees to discuss with their employer, but it is an important one to help their transition back to work after maternity leave.

The law requires an employer to provide somewhere for a breastfeeding employee to rest and this includes being able to lie down. 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 you of her intention to breastfeed. However, it is good practice for an employer to do so, to help decide if any additional action needs to be taken.

The law does not require an employer to grant paid breaks from a job in order to enable the employee to breastfeed or to express milk (therefore any break taken can be unpaid). Neither does it require an employer to provide facilities to breastfeed or express milk. This said a refusal to allow a breastfeeding employee to express milk or to adjust her working conditions to enable her to continue to breastfeed may amount to unlawful sex discrimination. However, if you have considered the request objectively, discussed the issue with your employee and still cannot allow the break without there being an unacceptable impact on your business, then this would help explain your decision and would be much less likely to constitute indirect sex discrimination.

How often the employee needs to express milk and for how long is very individual. It will be appropriate to discuss this with the employee, i.e. how many feeds would she normally give the baby (if she were at home) during the hours she will be working and when she would need to have the break. Babies rarely feed to an exact schedule and it may not matter if she cannot express exactly at the right time.

You are also under no obligation to provide an employee who is expressing milk with a fridge to store the milk in. However, most businesses have refreshment areas that contain a fridge and you should consider enabling expressed milk to be stored there (perhaps secured in a re-sealable container for hygiene purposes).

If you would like further advice on this matter or guidance on any other maternity issues, please call Practical HR on 01702 216573 or email Fiona on fiona@practical-hr.co.uk