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Civil servant who used a shed as a place to express for breastfeeding at work awarded €3k

The case was brought to a conclusion at the Workplace Relations Commission last month.

Image: Shutterstock/Farknot Architect

A CIVIL SERVANT in a government department has been awarded €3,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) after claiming she could not breastfeed at work because the facilities were inappropriate.

The woman claimed that this and other matters amounted to discrimination and, despite a defence put forward by her employers, a WRC adjudicator ruled in her favour and awarded her redress.

In the case, the woman said she expressed for breastfeeding in a shed at first as there were no appropriate facilities for her to use. 

The decision was made in November following a hearing 12 months prior.

Claim

The civil servant said she returned to work following maternity leave and was sent to a new role at an agency under the auspices of that department. She said she was placed in a lower role and based in a call centre where there were no facilities to breastfeed or express.

She said she asked HR, who said she could go to the department’s offices to use its facilities.

It was her case that this was an inconvenience.

The adjudicator said: “The complainant found that walking to the Department office was too disruptive to her working day and could not (to use the complainant’s own words) ‘hold it in’. She improvised a local solution by using a mews or shed building.”

It was also her claim that she was not told about a lock put on a meeting room door to help facilitate her needs, despite her employer’s claim she was told on a specified date that this had happened. 

The adjudicator said: “The respondent had also said that she could use a meeting room and that a lock would be placed on the door to secure privacy. This never happened. It was uncomfortable so she eventually stopped and could no longer express.”

She said that being assigned to the agency outside the department affected her opportunity to apply for promotions.

“She said that the email regarding the use of a room had not been sent to her,” the adjudicator said.

“She had then been expressing in the shed for a couple of months, and it was only by chance that she went to the room.

She continued to use the office for a week and did not see that the door was repaired. While the email suggests that her line manager had identified a solution, this was not relayed to her.

Defence 

A senior HR official in the department told the WRC adjudicator that employees are assigned based on business need and at the time she returned from maternity leave the civil servant in question was assigned to an agency where there were a number of vacancies.

According to a higher executive officer at the department, the agency was alarmed to discover that that the woman was “using the mews building”, or shed as referred to in the complainants evidence,” for the purposes of breastfeeding.

It was at this stage the meeting room was set aside for her needs, but the higher executive officer didn’t know whether the complainant had been informed of this. 

The department denied it had discriminated against the woman – either through denying her promotional opportunities or on the matter of breastfeeding.

It said that the complainant had been “credited with one hour per day” and the department had been flexible in making suitable arrangements. It did acknowledge, however, that a separate breastfeeding room was “not possible”.

Decision

In its decision, the WRC adjudicator summed up the case before outlining its conclusion: “The evidence was that the agency’s office, to which the complainant was assigned on her return from maternity leave, was a busy and overcrowded facility.

“The agency’s head count was increasing, and the complainant was one of several clerical officers assigned to the office.

“When the complainant raised the issue of breastfeeding facilities, the respondent offered a room in its office some distance away.

The complainant was facilitated with extra time, per the Circular. The complainant found that walking to the department office was too disruptive to her working day and could not (to use the complainant’s own words) “hold it in”. She improvised a local solution by using a mews or shed building.

“This was identified as unsuitable and the agency booked a meeting room. This was not private as the meeting room could not be locked. The respondent outlined that this was repaired, but the complainant was not told of this.

“There is no evidence of any communication between the agency and the complainant directly on this matter.

The correspondence between the respondent and the agency was not copied to the complainant. The result is that the complainant did not have access to the meeting room in the knowledge that it was private, restricting her ability to breastfeed/express during working hours.

Based on this, the adjudicator found that there was discrimination against the woman on the grounds of gender and awarded redress of €3,000. 

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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