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EasyJet lose sex discrimination case

EasyJet cabin crew have taken their employer to an employment tribunal, after the airline failed to make suitable arrangements to allow them to continue breastfeeding after they returned to work from maternity leave.
 
The staff involved had asked EasyJet for shorter shifts so that they could express milk before and after work. The airline refused and instead offered them ground duties for six months, arguing that breastfeeding after six months is a choice, not essential.
 
This was judged to be sex discrimination, as the rights of breastfeeding mothers are protected. EasyJet should have carried out its own risk assessment and they should also have taken medical advice from the employees’ GPs into account. As they had failed to take either of these steps, the Tribunal ordered in favour of the crew members.  
 
This serves as an important reminder to employers, that requests from employees for altered working arrangements need to be considered carefully, particularly where the reason for the request is linked to pregnancy, childcare, breastfeeding or medical grounds. All of these can give rise to discrimination claims if the request is refused. The case highlights the importance of having a good reason for any refusal and backing it up with evidence. On this occasion, it would have been possible for EasyJet to have successfully defended the claim if it could have shown that investigative steps were taken and its decision was justified.    
 
Sarah Naylor, specialist employment law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “The rights of breastfeeding mothers are a hot topic, particularly with the constant debates and media storm over women being asked to cover up in public places.  Employers need to be aware of their duties to employees and should also be mindful of the financial and reputational risks associated with discrimination claims.”
 
Do you have an employment issue? Talk to us. We are employment law specialists and can give you the expert advice you need. Call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk   
 
 
 

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