Breastfeeding discrimination laws compliance is ‘imperative’: lawyer

Analysis

Breastfeeding discrimination laws compliance is ‘imperative’: lawyer

It’s World Breastfeeding Week (1–7 August), and a law firm has reminded Australian mothers and their employers that discriminating against women who breastfeed is now illegal.

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It’s World Breastfeeding Week (1–7 August), and a law firm has reminded Australian mothers and their employers that discriminating against women who breastfeed is now illegal.

According to Stephanie Nicol, workplace relations partner at Gadens Lawyers, employers need to reassess their employment practices and policies to ensure they comply with amendments to the Cwlth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which took effect from 21 June 2011.

The newly amended legislation outlaws direct or indirect discrimination against a woman who is breastfeeding — which includes expressing milk — by establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination in certain areas of public life, including employment.

Review policies and provide training

Nicol said that whereas employers are likely to be able to easily identify direct discrimination (such as a decision not to hire a woman because she is breastfeeding), some ‘struggle’ can happen when it comes to identifying indirect discrimination.

‘For instance, a requirement that employees take a break at a particular time may have the indirect effect of disadvantaging women who need to take breaks at other times to express milk,’ she said.

With breastfeeding now a protected attribute, Nicole warned employers that discrimination on the ground of breastfeeding in work is prohibited, in the same way as discrimination on the ground of sex or pregnancy is prohibited.

‘It is imperative that employers are aware of their obligations to women who are breastfeeding and ensure that their organisations comply with the new provisions,’ she said.

‘It is important to review policies, procedures and employment practices as laws change to ensure their currency and relevance. Training should also be provided regularly to employees and managers.’

Proactive measures increasingly taken to retain mothers

Nicol said that in the last 12 months she has seen an increase in the number of organisations developing strategies to retain female employees who have had children and to attract new mothers back to the workforce, including by providing breaks and facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk at work.

‘There is definitely a trend in employers taking proactive measures to create a diverse workplace and to raise awareness within their organisation of these kinds of issues,’ she said.

Breastfeeding refuge launched in NSW

Meanwhile, the NSW branch of the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) will officially open a ‘Breastfeeding Lounge’ in Castle Hill during World Breastfeeding Week.

Centrally located in north-west Sydney, the lounge offers mothers a comfortable ‘refuge’ where they can learn about breastfeeding, support other breastfeeding mothers and access ABA services.

‘It’s the perfect place to drop in with your baby and relax; make an appointment for expert help and advice; hire a breast pump; participate in specialised classes on such topics as sleep and settling, early days of parenting and breastfeeding basics or join a local mothers group that meets at the Lounge,’ the ABA said.

The lounge will launch at 10.30 am at 4 McMullen Avenue, Castle Hill. Contact the ABA for more details (phone (02) 8853 4900).
 
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