Breastfeeding Brouhaha

By: Ellen A. S. Low
Last week, a 36 year old mom was recently asked to stop breastfeeding her five month old in a Montreal children’s clothing store. This has, of course, re-opened the debate about the propriety of breastfeeding in public.
Except that in Ontario anyway, there is no debate. Women are entitled to breastfeed their children where, and when, they need to – period.  They may do so despite the protests, discomfort or other objections of people who believe breastfeeding should be done in private, at home, or in dedicated “zones” or rooms.
In 2007, a Pickering woman was breastfeeding her child on the YMCA’s pool deck when a lifeguard suggested she move to avoid offending anyone.  The YMCA later issued an apology stating the lifeguard had made an error in judgment, but the situation raises  a few good questions:
a) Would your employees know how to deal with a breastfeeding mom?
b) Do you know how to deal with a breastfeeding employee?
The short answers are as follows:

(a) The Ontario Human Rights Policy on Discrimination Because of Pregnancy and Breastfeeding makes it expressly clear that women can nurse in public areas and “it is discriminatory to ask them to cover up or breastfeed somewhere else.”  This means that employees should leave breastfeeding moms be to avoid a complaint to the human rights tribunal.

(b) Breastfeeding employees should be provided with what is also known as “lactation accommodation.” This accommodation can include giving the employee reasonable time off throughout the day to express milk and providing a private location to express and store milk.  Ideally, both employer and employee should have a discussion about the employee’s needs.

Shocking as it may be, Ms. Smith’ not the first, and likely won’t be the last, to experience scrutiny for breastfeeding her child.  Employers and employees with questions about their rights and obligations should refer to experienced employment-law counsel.