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Case Study: First Reported Workplace Discrimination Case Concerning Breastfeeding Parents at Work


Facts of the case

The employee was a KFC store manager for three years. She returned to work in early 2022 following a period of parental leave. She requested a private room and refrigeration as she needed to express breastfeed. The employer told her that it could not provide a private room due to the impracticality and cost. The employee stated that other local KFC stores had private rooms indicating that the request was feasible. The employer did not alter the layout of the store or transfer the employee to a nearby store with a private room.

The Employee then requested that she be allowed to use the private rooms in a nearby shopping centre on her scheduled breaks. However, KFC had a policy that required a manager who has been trained in work health and safety to always be present in the store. The employee was told that she was not allowed to leave the store during her scheduled breaks.

In accommodating the employee’s need to express feed, the employer agreed to supply a foldable tent and chair in the store. The employee complained that the foldable tent was not private and too confined, causing her discomfort and embarrassment. As a result, the employee would often wait for another manager to arrive, then go to a nearby shopping mall with a parent room facility.

The delay in express breastfeeding caused the Applicant significant physical discomfort. The employee lodged a complaint with the ACT Human Rights Commission and subsequently resigned.

The ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) determined that KFC imposed a workplace policy that required managers to remain in the store during the scheduled breaks disadvantages breastfeeding parents. It was held that the tent was unsuitable for express breastfeeding and the employee was forced to remain in the store until another manager arrived causing her physical pain. KFC’s arguments that alternative arrangements, imposed excessive financial burdens on the company were rejected by ACAT.

Takeaways for Employers

Anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of protected attributes, such as age, disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, and social status.

Breastfeeding is a protected attribute under federal anti-discrimination laws as well as under the majority of state and territory laws.

Employers are reminded that they must make arrangements to accommodate the breastfeeding needs of their employees to ensure that they are not being disadvantaged.

This duty extends to making changes to your workplace policies to ensure that no employee will be disadvantaged by a workplace policy. Employers should also ensure that the business operation and the physical layout of the workplace will not present a disadvantage to certain employees.

If you have any questions about your obligations in relation to discrimination at work, please contact our Workplace Relations and Legal Team on (02) 6175 5900.