A teacher who had recently returned to work and needed somewhere to express milk during the day for her baby was found to have been discriminated against when she was forced to use “dirty” toilets to do this.
This is the case of a teacher, Ms Mellor, who had submitted a flexible working request before she returned after the birth of her second child. She had told the school that she would need somewhere safe to express her milk. However, the options they offered of empty classrooms were inappropriate because anyone could have walked in whilst she was expressing.
Ms Mellor had returned to work during the Covid-19 pandemic and so her partner was not allowed to bring the baby in at lunchtimes for a feed. This meant that she had no alternative but to express her milk.
Judge Miller, who heard the case against Mirfield Free Grammar (MFG) School (part of the MFG Academies Trust in Mirfield, West Yorkshire) said that Ms Mellor, “genuinely and reasonably had no choice but to use the toilets or her car to express” and had made the school aware on numerous occasions but nowhere was provided. “The alternative was that the claimant would experience an embarrassing leakage in the afternoon,” Judge Miller explained. “It is obvious that this is unacceptable.”
She had also not been given any additional time to do this and so had had to eat her lunch in the toilets whilst expressing her milk.
the Tribunal Judge concluded that, “the conduct did have the effect of creating a degrading or humiliating environment for the claimant,” and went further to say, “We are aware of the seriousness of these words, but in our view a woman who has recently given birth should not be subjected to these circumstances solely because she has done so.”
So if you have an employee returning after maternity leave, engage with her to find out what her requirements are because a failure to do so could open you up to a claim of harassment. Remember that toilets are unlikely to be considered appropriate and that somewhere private will need to be made available as well as time for her to express her milk.
About the author
Award-winning HR consultant Helen Astill has considerable experience in all aspects of practical human resource management and development, gained from a variety of senior positions in both public and private sectors.
Cherington HR joined HR Solutions in July 2021, providing Cherington HR’s clients with a wider service offering and extensive additional experienced staff.