Sex Discrimination Claims

7th Oct 2016

Breast Feeding Employees: EasyJet’s Refusal was Discriminatory

All employers have a duty to treat employees equally regardless of gender. Most of the time this is fairly simple. A man and woman doing the same work should receive the same pay for example and most companies manage to avoid this kind of direct discrimination. However, a recent case involving the EasyJet airline shows that there are traps for unwary employers which can have a discriminatory effect upon their staff.

Arrangements around maternity leave and parenthood can be a minefield. EasyJet was found by an employment tribunal to have failed to make suitable arrangements to enable their female employees to continue breast-feeding after they returned to work from maternity leave.

The returning employees had asked for shorter shifts in order to enable them to express milk before and after their shifts.  The airline considered the employees’ requests but refused, instead offering them ground duties for 6 months.  The airline considered that after 6 months, breast feeding was a personal choice not a necessity. 

The case was taken up by the employees’ union who argued that EasyJet was effectively making a decision for its employees as to how long they could breast feed their children.

The tribunal decided that EasyJet had failed to carry out its own risk assessment, and had failed to take into account medical advice from the employees’ doctors. Damages will no doubt be awarded and the case will have cost EasyJet a considerable amount in time and money.

Employers who are not careful can easily fall foul of findings like this. Employment tribunals have shown little patience towards employers who cause their employees to suffer any disadvantage as a result of pregnancy or on grounds of their sex.  Requests for altered working arrangements should be considered carefully by employers with the assistance of legal advice to ensure that, despite any best intentions, they do not fall foul of discrimination legislation.

Gales can help avoid such cases with by reviewing policies and procedures to check that they will meet the criteria applied by employment tribunals. If you are concerned about the risk of sex discrimination claims contact for advice and assistance.