An employment tribunal has found that airline easyJet indirectly discriminated against breastfeeding employees by refusing their flexible working requests. Philip Sayers explains.
“A recent employment tribunal found easyJet to be discriminating against female employees after refusing flexible working requests to allow two members of staff to breastfeed. Two of the airline’s crew had requested shifts of under eight hours to allow them to continue breastfeeding their children after returning from maternity leave. Their request was based on managing the length of time between opportunities to express milk. This was supported by letters from their GPs, which highlighted the medical risks if they were faced with long periods of not being able to express.
“easyJet rejected their requests, arguing that the airline needed staff to work shifts longer than eight hours to deliver its flying schedule, as well as avoiding flight delays and cancellations. The claimants were given temporary ground duties, but as this was not offered immediately they both had periods of sickness absence and unpaid leave. The tribunal ruled that the staff had been subject to indirect sex discrimination.
“Although they do not have a statutory right to time off, breastfeeding mothers do have some legal protections, including the right not to suffer indirect sex discrimination. An employer can justify indirect sex discrimination if they can prove that their decision was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim for the business. In this case, EasyJet could potentially have argued that it was not possible to permit crew staff to only work shifts of under eight hours, because of their flight schedules, which cannot be changed.
“This case highlights the importance of dealing properly with flexible working requests and thinking through the potential for indirect discrimination when making any decision.”
For more information on this or any Employment enquiries contact Philip Sayers on 0800 328 3282 or firstname.lastname@example.org