Two easyJet flight attendants have won the right to express milk for their children while working, in a landmark indirect sex discrimination claim.
A tribunal in Bristol found that easyJet breached the Employment Rights Act through indirect sex discrimination against two employees, Sara Ambacher and Cynthia McFarlane.
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The women put in a request with the airline to see if they could be rostered for a maximum of eight hours, in order that they could express milk either side of their shift.
EasyJet refused the request on health and safety grounds, claiming there could be unforeseen delays that could see the women working more than eight hours.
According to the union Unite, which represented them at tribunal, the company then offered them the standard, unrestricted duty days of 12 hours. However, this shift pattern would have significantly increased the risk of the common breastfeeding infection mastitis and painful, engorged breasts.
Unite also revealed that, although in their training literature easyJet recognises breastfeeding as being a “globally recognised human right” for passengers, this position did not extend to its cabin crew.
The airline disregarded the advice of four GPs and failed to carry out its own risk assessments, despite having a dedicated health and safety team, Unite said. Instead, managers were accused of Googling “breastfeeding risks” before coming up with a series of unworkable solutions.
Ambacher and McFarlane were then offered ground duties for six months, a time period that easyJet refused to extend because they considered their wish to continue breastfeeding to be a “choice”.
Unite legal officer Nicky Marcus said: “It is a ground-breaking victory which has wider implications for all working women particularly those in atypical workplaces like cabin crew.
“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 airlines to ensure that they adopt policies and practices that reflect this ruling.”
Earlier in September, another female airline worker won her case for indirect sex discrimination when her employer, Flybe, refused to allow her to work pre-arranged days so that she could accommodate childcare.