So, what can you, as an employer, do to help?
The HSE states that, “employers are responsible for providing a safe working environment” while “effectively managing risks to the health and safety of all workers, including women of a childbearing age”. In addition to this, employers have a duty to carry out an individual risk assessment for workers who are pregnant, have given birth in the last 6 months or who are currently breastfeeding. As part of this risk assessment process, any working conditions or processes that could potentially harm the worker and/or their child can be identified, and any necessary control measures implemented. These control measures may vary dependent on the workers’ role.
An employee can work up to 10 days during their maternity or adoption leave. These are known as Keeping in Touch (KIT) days and are optional. Both the employee and employer must agree to them; however, they can be a great way for employees on leave to keep up to date with what is happening in the workplace and can be especially useful towards the end of the leave to help the employee gradually settle back into work. KIT days also provide both the employee and the employer the opportunity to discuss any arrangements that may be required, to allow them to return to work.
Prior to their return to work, new mothers should send their employer written notification that they are breastfeeding. New mothers are entitled to more frequent rest breaks, the timing and frequency of which must be agreed between the employee and the employer. Larger companies may choose to create a policy on breastfeeding to make sure of consistency, however, this may not be required for smaller companies.
In addition to more frequent rest breaks, the HSE recommend that employers should provide a suitable area where the worker can rest or breastfeed. Dependent on the individual needs of the worker, this may need to include somewhere to lie down. This area must also be hygienic and private to allow the employee to express milk. Despite being a private area, toilets are not a suitable place for an employee to breastfeed and alternative arrangements should be made. Storage provisions for expressed milk can also be provided, for example a fridge in an office space or a cool box in a vehicle for a delivery driver, and there should also be facilities provided for washing, sterilising, and storing receptacles.
Whilst the guidelines strongly recommend providing the above for new mothers, there is no legal obligation on employers for this to be done. It is vital that employers speak to their employee to agree on what would be most appropriate and suitable for their needs.
Companies invest heavily in hiring, training, and developing women and equally those women invest their time, energy and expertise developing within the company and industry they work in. By implementing provisions for new mothers returning to work, employers can help to make sure that women who want to work after becoming mothers can do so.