Airlines may have to rewrite the rulebook for new mothers following a “ground-breaking” victory.
The news comes after two members of easyJet’s Bristol-based cabin crew took the airline to an employment tribunal.
Having given birth to baby boys, Sara Ambacher and Cynthia McFarlane claimed the airline’s decision not to limit their duty days to 8 hours to allow them to express milk or to offer them ground duties whilst they continued to breastfeed was discriminatory.
Problems started following easyJet’s failure to roster them for a maximum of eight hours to enable them to express their milk either side of the shift. Staff are not permitted to express during flights.
The LCC had justified the decision on health and safety grounds “primarily for their own safety”, citing unforeseen delays as potentially resulting in them working beyond the eight hours.
Instead, it offered the two women standard, unrestricted duty days of 12 hours which, evidently, which they claimed would have significantly increased the risk of mastitis and painful, engorged breasts.
In doing so, easyJet disregarded the advice of four GPs, failed to carry out their own risk assessments despite having a dedicated health and safety team and failed to send the women to be assessed by occupational health.
Yesterday on September 29, the Bristol employment tribunal agreed, ruling that the airline’s failure to facilitate the mothers amounted to indirect sex discrimination and breached the Employment Rights Act under which the airline should have reduced the breastfeeding mothers’ hours, found them alternative duties or suspended them on full pay.
Unite legal officer Nicky Marcus said: “We are delighted with employment Judge Harper’s ruling. It is a ground-breaking victory which has wider implications for all working women particularly those in atypical workplaces like cabin crew.
“The days of ‘I’m going back to work so I will have to give up breastfeeding’ are over.
“Unite has tens of thousands of female cabin crew members across the major airlines and we will be working with those airlines to ensure that they adopt policies and practices that reflect this ruling.”
An easyJet spokesperson said: "EasyJet wants to ensure that women can continue to breastfeed whilst working at easyJet and we are reviewing the working practices for our cabin crew to ensure they can do so."