Frequently asked questions about health and safety after maternity leave
Do I have any health and safety rights when I go back to work?
I had an emergency caesarean at 34 weeks but my baby was stillborn. I’ve had my 26 weeks maternity leave and I’m back at work as a care assistant but I am in pain and it’s hard to lift the patients. My employer says that I’m not entitled to the health and safety rights because my baby died.
Full health and safety protection apply to everyone who has given birth, which includes giving birth to a stillborn child. Full maternity rights are the entitlement of everyone who gives birth to a baby after 24 weeks of pregnancy. They are also the right of everyone who gives birth to a baby who lives, even for a few seconds, at any point in the pregnancy. Discuss your concerns with your doctor or midwife and ask for a letter stating that your working conditions are a risk to you, if a risk has been identified, you are entitled to a proper risk assessment.
My baby is ten weeks old and I’m due to go back to work next week, but I want to carry on breastfeeding for the recommended six months. When I return can I have breaks to breastfeed my baby or to express milk?
There is no statutory entitlement to paid breastfeeding breaks in the UK yet. However, all employers have a legal duty to protect the health and safety of breastfeeding mothers and to provide ‘suitable facilities’ for a breastfeeding mother ‘to rest’. This means that you should be able to have suitable facilities and breaks to breastfeed/express milk. You should be able to temporarily change your hours and/or be temporarily transferred to alternative work if your working conditions stop you from breastfeeding/expressing milk and your baby’s health is put at risk by a particular condition of your job.
In order to exercise these rights you should inform your employer in writing that you will be breastfeeding your baby at the time of your return, identify the potential issues and discuss what arrangements will be made. Your employer should carry out a risk assessment which should consider the risks to you as a breastfeeding mother and to your newborn child whose health could be jeopardised if you do not breastfeed. A letter from your GP may help.
European Union Guidelines (COM 2000 466 final) recommend that rest facilities should ideally include access to a private room, access to a secure, clean fridge for storing milk and time off to express milk or to breastfeed. If these are not provided the lack of facilities could amount to a health and safety risk.
If you need to reduce or change your hours to continue breastfeeding, and you can show that your required hours would make it hard or impossible for you to breastfeed/express milk and your employer unjustifiably refuses, you may have a claim of indirect sex discrimination. If your employer refuses to let you return to work because you are breastfeeding, you may have claims of unfair dismissal and sex discrimination in an Employment Tribunal. If you are considering bringing a claim you should seek legal advice.
I have been on maternity leave for a year. I am due to return to work and I would like to continue breastfeeding. Can I have breaks to breastfeed or to express milk?
Scientific evidence suggests indicates that the longer you continue breastfeeding the greater the ongoing health benefits for you and your baby – at least until your baby is 12 months old. It may be more difficult to establish a health and safety risk to you or your baby after your baby is 12 months old, particularly as your baby is likely to be taking solid foods as well by then. However, there may be a health and safety risk if your baby has particular health needs and you have been advised to continue breastfeeding