My employer said there was nowhere suitable for me to express and that was that

I was due to go back to work when my daughter was 9 months old. I wanted to take a full year off but this was not financially possible. I wrote to my employer telling them that I wanted to continue to breastfeed my baby and would need to express breast milk whilst at work for her to have at nursery. I asked if they would put some thought into a private space for me to be able to do this once or twice a day.

HR called me and told me on the phone that I would have to use the toilet to express. I explained that this was entirely inappropriate for a variety of reasons, including the obvious hygiene issue. The NHS, Maternity Action, HSE etc all say that the toilet is not an appropriate place to express. HR then said that they could not think of anywhere else for me to use so I would have to think about it myself.

I then emailed my boss explaining the situation and telling her about HR’s suggestion of using a toilet and how that was unsuitable. I asked her if she could think of anywhere I could use, and suggested a meeting room.

HR then called me again to say that they had had a long discussion with my boss, and that there was nowhere suitable for me to express. The office is open plan so there are no offices I could use, and the meeting rooms were not an appropriate place because there are no blinds and it would be unprofessional if a client were to walk in and see me expressing. HR then went silent and left it there. I was taken aback but explained that this would be a real issue for me. I did not want to formula feed my daughter, and would need to express not only for her benefit, but also because I would be at risk of mastitis (and generally uncomfortable from becoming engorged) if I did not express for so long. HR said they understood where I was coming from, but that there was nothing they could do to help.

I was still shocked and very upset by HR’s response. I then said that it appeared the only option for me was to leave the office and find somewhere in the city centre to express, and HR agreed this was the best option. I asked how this would work as I was working a compressed day only taking a 30 min lunch break so that I could leave work early to collect my daughter from nursery. 30 mins was not enough time to walk into the city centre, find somewhere to express (if indeed there was somewhere!), and get back to work. HR said it might be best if I took an hour lunch break and used that time, but that I would have to agree this with my boss.

I am now looking into my rights but I feel very hurt at my work’s attitude to me continuing to breastfeed. I feel as though I am being asked to leave the building to express because it’s something dirty that they wouldn’t want a client to see. Organising childcare is extremely stressful as it is without the added pressure of not knowing how I will feed my baby when I’m away from her.

This is just the latest in a long line of complaints I’ve had with my employer. For example, when I was heavily pregnant over summer, I fainted on the train twice because it was so hot and the train was so packed. I asked if it would be possible for me to work from home sometimes to avoid this or to start work a little earlier and finish a little earlier, or start and finish a little later, so I was avoiding rush hour trains. Other people in my office do this, but I was told I wasn’t allowed as I was too junior.

In addition, I had told my boss that I wanted to take maternity leave at the start of September and she said this wouldn’t be a problem, and that she would be flexible with me so if I wanted to work a little longer or go off a little earlier, it would be OK. She then booked a 2 week holiday at the start of September and refused to let me go on maternity leave until she was back from holiday as there was too much work. So I ended up working 2 weeks before my due date and I was exhausted. To top it off, I was also regularly working until 10pm at night because of the huge workload left by her absence.

I requested to work a 3 day week on my return for maternity, but this was denied. Again, other people in my office do this, but they said I was too junior to be allowed this option. They have agreed to let me work 4 days a week, but have insisted that I am issued with a laptop so that I can work in the evenings etc if I have to catch up on work. My boss said “we all have to work outside of our contracted hours”. This seems very unfair to me when I wasn’t allowed a laptop to work from home when I was pregnant because I was too junior (I’ve been on maternity leave so I am no more experienced now than I was then!) and I feel as though I will end up working a 5 day week in my own time but only being paid a pro rata salary.

My situation hasn’t been resolved yet but I hate that I have been put in this situation where I am having to politely argue my rights with HR. The onus is completely on me to sort it out, my work seem to have washed their hands of the situation. I hate confrontation and feel awkward and uncomfortable about the whole thing, but breastfeeding my daughter is very important to me so I will do what I have to do, even if that means leaving or delaying my return to work despite the financial repercussions.

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