EasyJet discriminated against two cabin crew members over breastfeeding at work by failing to let them take shorter shifts, a tribunal ruled yesterday.
The budget airline failed to limit their days to eight hours to allow them to express milk or to offer them ground duties while they continued to breastfeed their babies, the employment tribunal found.
During the hearing in Bristol it emerged that managers googled “breastfeeding risks” to come up with a series of proposals to the women, Sara Ambacher and Cynthia McFarlane, which they judged to be unworkable.
The tribunal ruled that easyJet had 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, The Times reported.
The women had asked easyJet to roster them for a maximum of eight hours to enable them to express their milk either side of the shift, as recommended by their GPs.
EasyJet turned down their request on health and safety grounds “primarily for their own safety”, citing unforeseen delays as potentially resulting in them working beyond the eight hours.
Instead, the women were offered standard unrestricted duty days of 12 hours, which may have significantly increased the risk of mastitis, a condition that causes breast tissue to become painful and inflamed.
After the legal case was lodged by the Unite union, the airline agreed that the mothers could do ground duties for six months.
It was unwilling to extend the period because it considered that the women’s wish to continue breastfeeding was “a choice”.
The tribunal ruled that it was discriminatory to attempt to limit the time period during which the mothers could breastfeed.
A spokesman for the airline said: “EasyJet wants to ensure that women can continue to breastfeed . . . and we are reviewing the working practices for our cabin crew to ensure they can do so.”
Unite legal officer Nicky Marcus called the victory ground-breaking. She said that it had implications for all working women, particularly those in atypical workplaces.
“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,” she said.