A mother in the US has taken to LinkedIn to name and shame her employer who required her to sign a lactation agreement upon her return to work from maternity leave. This agreement outlined the times of day that could be used for expressing, and how long she was permitted to do so, some of which was unpaid. 

Understandably, the post received a lot responses from readers, many of who were mothers themselves, with some indicating that they would have resigned on the spot if faced with the same request. 

Although this took place in the US, surprisingly in the UK there is no statutory right for time off to breast feed or express. Instead employers need only carry out a risk assessment in relation to the issue and provide suitable facilities for the mother to rest. 

The HSE guidance goes a little further and recommends that employers try to accommodate employees who need to take time out to breastfeed or express, and provide storage facilities for the milk such as a fridge. 

In 2005/6 the Breast feeding etc. Bill attempted to outlaw discrimination against female employees who wished to breastfeed whilst at work. However, the Bill was unsuccessful. 

In 2007 a lobby group had a little more success, resulting in section 13 of the Equalities Act 2010 being amended to provide that for the purposes direct discrimination, less favourable treatment included such treatment because she is breastfeeding. However, discrimination at work claims were expressly excluded from this change. 

Employees are therefore left to bring claims for indirect discrimination if they suffer a detriment at work due to breastfeeding. Such a claim can be defeated by an employer being able to objectively justify its actions. This was, however, recently called into question by the ECJ who made it clear that the failure to carry outa risk assessment in relation to a breastfeeding mother would itself amount to direct discrimination. 

The takeaway recommendation to employers who have breastfeeding employees is to take a flexible, fair and reasonable approach when it comes to the issue. This attitude is likely to encourage mothers to return to work earlier and also reinforce a positive working relationship.