Are employers obliged to accommodate requests for lengthy breaks several times a day for the purpose of expressing milk?
There is no specific statutory duty requiring employers to allow women the flexibility to continue breastfeeding or to express milk on their return to work from maternity leave. However, health and safety legislation does require an employer to accommodate a breastfeeding employee to some extent.
Section 25(4) of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (SI 1992/3004) specifically requires employers to provide facilities for breastfeeding mothers to rest. Further, guidance from the Health and Safety Executive encourages employers to provide a healthy and safe environment for nursing mothers to express and store milk. The toilets are not "suitable facilities" for this purpose. In addition, it may constitute an act of sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 to refuse an employee a rest break for the purpose of expressing milk as this is an issue that affects only women.
In light of the above requirements, it follows that employers should allow adequate breaks for the purpose of expressing milk. It would be prudent for employers to consult with employees returning from maternity leave about any requirement to express milk and agree the length and frequency of any breaks for this purpose as there is no specific guidance on how long and/or frequent the breaks should be.