Parental Leave & Breastfeeding

With the new Parental Leave scheme in Jersey becoming effective from 28 June 2020, and with International Breastfeeding week coming to a close, John Ioannou-Droushiotis looks at the new parental leave requirements, the impact this may have on businesses and measures employers can put into place to help returning mother’s breastfeed or express in the workplace.

Family Friendly Rights in Jersey

Jersey enhanced their Family friendly rights in June 2020 with a range of provisions.

Parental Leave – 52 weeks of leave for all parents of which 6 weeks are paid by the employer. The leave may be taken in 3 separate blocks of leave over a 2 year period although once the third block of leave has been used, the right to further leave falls away. The right to parental leave is provided to both parents regardless of the length of service they have had with their employer. These rights also extend to adoptive and surrogate parents.

Ante-Natal Appointments – Unlimited paid appointments for the mother with 10 hours of paid appointments for the father/partner/surrogate parents, with the remainder unpaid.

Adoption Appointments – The right to unlimited appointments, up to 10 hours of which is paid for by the employer. Any appointments beyond 10 hours are unpaid.

Paid Suspension on the grounds of Health and Safety – Following a risk assessment, if an employer is unable to allocate a pregnant or breastfeeding employee other duties she will have the right to paid absence.

Breastfeeding and Expressing – Under the new rules, employees can request temporary changes to their working conditions for the purpose of breastfeeding and also breaks during the working day for expressing milk. Employers will also need to take reasonable steps to provide appropriate facilities in the workplace. It is important to note that such breaks are only paid when the application to breastfeed falls within the first year of the child’s birth. The right to request temporary changes to working conditions under this part of the law is solely for the purpose of enabling breastfeeding and expressing.

The existing provisions of the right to return to work; protection against detriment and dismissal for reasons relating to these rights; discrimination on the grounds of sex, pregnancy/maternity and the ability to make flexible working requests to amend other terms and conditions not related to (breastfeeding/expressing), continue to apply.

Breastfeeding and Expressing Breaks in the Workplace

The advantages of breastfeeding for both the mother and baby have been well known for some time. From nutritional benefits and providing antibodies to the baby to help fight off viruses and bacteria, to helping reduce the risk of certain diseases for the baby, and the mother; however the question remains as to whether breastfeeding or expressing milk in the workplace is still a sensitive or even taboo subject.

To help understand whether this is still a difficult subject in the workplace, I spoke to a number of friends working in a variety of sectors in Guernsey, to learn more about their experiences.

Grace had recently returned to work from maternity leave and noted that her employer and manager had been very flexible allowing her to take a break to go and breastfeed offsite as her baby does not take a bottle. Grace was also accommodated by not having to work any late night shifts or perform ‘on call’ work. Grace said “it has made returning to work so much easier”.

Trudy gave birth 5 years ago and had a similar positive experience from her employer; being provided with a private room, facilitates to store the milk and also allowed the time to express without any pressure. Trudy’s duties were also phased slightly upon return to assist with settling back into work.

Diana, who gave birth over 6 years ago felt like the first person to request expressing milk at work at the time. More than 6 years on, expressing milk is now included in the staff handbook and anyone breastfeeding or expressing is not expected to make up the time. Diana said “the benefits to the employer is that breastfed children tend to have fewer childhood illnesses, therefore you have less time off work for this”.

This being said not all experiences were as positive, one friend noted that breastfeeding was never really discussed upon their return to work and they did not have the facilitates to breastfeed or express which meant they had to rush off at the end of the day to breastfeed their baby. Another friend said that it is not even a subject that is discussed at their workplace and would not be comfortable raising it with their employer.

The above shows very different experiences and approaches in Guernsey, where such a right is yet to be established. While some employers provide very good steps and approaches others seem to not have considered the requirements of returning mothers.

Measures Employers can take

There are many steps employers can take to assist a returning employee who wishes to breastfeed and/or express while also ensuring the impacts to the business are minimised. It is important to note that the below have been drafted for adherence to the Jersey legislative requirements but could equally be considered for employers faced with such requests in Guernsey.

  • Update Family Friendly rights policies within the handbook to ensure a consistent standard is applied to assist with making fair and reasonable decisions. It also helps to provide some information and clarity as to what is provided for employees, for them to be able to consider before they go on parental/maternity leave.
  • Update health and safety policies and risk assessments to ensure all risks for returning employees are considered and adequately managed.
  • Communicate the new policies and rights to all employees to ensure they are familiar with how the organisation manages and provides support in such situations.
  • Train managers in this area to understand the rules and policies and ensure they are consistently applied. This training should also include the considerations managers are to take when reviewing such a request leading to a temporary change in terms and conditions. Employers should consider any short term break away from work reasonably and objectively against the impact it might have on the business. Employers should be careful not to discriminate against breastfeeding/expressing employees.
  • Ensure that a meeting is held with the returning employee prior to their return, to assess whether they require facilities or support with breastfeeding/expressing breaks.
  • Consider what facilities will need to be provided or amended to accommodate such a request. The provision of a clean, warm and private room can be provided with many employers changing a small meeting room to provide a comfortable environment for employees who wish to breastfeed or express. A separate place to store expressed milk such as a separate fridge is also a good idea.
  • Review the employee’s needs and provide breaks and flexibility in workload management to accommodate returning employees requests. Providing flexible start and finish times to help with morning and afternoon feeds may also be option.
  • Regularly review the arrangement in place to ensure that it continues to be workable for both employee and employer. It is also a good idea to obtain feedback from the employee regarding their experience to identify any changes that may be required to the measures in place and the policy for future instances.

The legal requirements for family friendly rights in Jersey and Guernsey are quite different at the moment and there is no plans to bring them in line as of yet. Pan-island employers are likely to have had to think about either adopting Jersey’s approach to their Guernsey employees or have different policies for each island. Focus has supported employers develop pan-island or separate policies, with some opting for a combination of the two approaches where legislation is yet to be enacted. For further advice and assistance in this area please feel free to contact a member of the Focus team.

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