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A risky approach to breastfeeding mother

BY Daniel Gorry
Employment Law & HR

In a recent European case, a breastfeeding mother was employed as an A & E nurse in a hospital in Spain. She advised her employers that the tasks she was required to complete would expose her to health and safety risks and affect her ability to breastfeed, requesting her working conditions be adjusted. The hospital refused this request on the basis that they felt her work did not pose a risk to breastfeeding her child and that her role was included in a list of risk-free jobs agreed between the hospital and the workers’ representatives.

The employee raised a claim in a Spanish court to challenge her employer’s decision. In support of her position, she produced a letter signed by her line manager, stating that the employee’s work did in fact pose a risk to her ability to breastfeed safely.  Unsuccessful in her claim, the employee appealed to the High Court.

The High Court established that the risk assessment must be specific to the individual worker’s situation in order to understand whether her or her child’s health and safety could be at risk.

In this instance, the employer’s risk assessment did not give any explanation for the conclusion it had reached and the signed letter called into question its validity. This gave the mother, on the face of it, an opportunity case to claim discrimination. It was then on the employer to disprove this by showing it had carried out the risk assessment properly, taking into account all available evidence.

This case should serve as a reminder of the importance of appropriate risk assessments for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. These should be done based on the female worker in question and not using a blanket approach. They should also be regularly reviewed to ensure that no health and safety risks emerge over time. If you have any questions about how you should be carrying out these risk assessment and your legal obligations to prevent pregnancy related discrimination, get in touch with your dedicated Legal Manager or Health and Safety Officer today.

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