Negotiating With Your Employer

In recent years, the proportion of employees with some form of family responsibilities has grown, and employers have been responding to this trend with family friendly policies and practices. Requesting breaks or space for breastfeeding fits with what many top employers are doing anyway in supporting staff’s caring responsibilities or achieving a work-life balance. However the introduction of breastfeeding breaks and facilities may be new to some organisations; employers and managers may not have considered this specific scenario previously.

If you have an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Officer, Human Resources Group or Personnel Group, or are a member of a union, you may want to talk with them first about the company’s breastfeeding policies before discussing with your employer.

Below is some helpful information and tips that will assist you in discussing the issue with your employer:

  • Know your entitlements: The legislation, your industrial award; terms of employment and relevant company policies and practices. 
  • Discuss your overall wishes well in advance (before you go on leave) and keep discussing the options during your leave and then your more specific needs in plenty of time before you return to work.
  • Explain your needs positively and state that you want to be able to work and breastfeed at the same time. Don’t apologise for breastfeeding.
  • Understand areas of common ground between you and your employer. You want a job where you can be successful and happy. Your employer wants you to be successful and happy in the job so you will be productive and continue to work there.
  • Be the one to frame the issue as this will often determine the type of solution devised. An issue that is presented as a problem or defined as for example, “lack of a dedicated breastfeeding room” is more likely to result in a different or less desirable solution than the same issue defined as, “need for some private space for 15 minutes twice a day”.
  • If you can give an estimated time frame for your request e.g. “I expect to be feeding twice a day for the next 3 months and then probably once per day for 6 months.” This will help your employer understand how much time you need, and in many cases it won't be as much as they might have thought!
  • Don’t be pressured into accepting conditions you’re not happy with. If you do feel pressured, ask for some time to think about it.
  • Suggest your preferred options for combining breastfeeding and work. You may be the first woman to have requested workplace flexibility so that you can breastfeed, and it may therefore be that initially the organisation does not know how to react.
  • If you feel comfortable continue to be open with your employer about your needs. Review the situation with them regularly.
  • If the organisation is not certified as being a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace, suggest they consider it.


What if I have a problem?


  • You have the right to ask for the support and your employer should respond positively. 
  • Under the Employment Relations (Breaks, Infant Feeding and Other Matters) Amendment Act 2008, employers are required, so far as reasonable and practicable in the circumstances, to provide appropriate facilities and breaks to an employee who wishes to breastfeed either at work or in work time.
  • If your employer does not allow your entitlements put your request to them in writing and ask for a written response. 
  • Seek advice from your organisation’s Grievance Officer, EEO Manager or externally, try your union, the Human Rights Commission, Breastfeeding Friendly Workplaces team, Working Women’s Resource Centre, or Community Legal Centre. They may be able to give you advice on dealing with the issue yourself or may be able to talk to your employer on your behalf. Sometimes it may simply need some creative solutions to balance both your needs and the needs of the employer, and sometimes a simple phone call to your employer to remind them of their legal obligations will be enough to make sure you get your entitlements. 
  • If you feel harassed or discriminated against, keep a log or diary of all incidents. Wherever possible talk to the person or people involved first and try to resolve the issue. If that doesn’t work or isn’t possible, talk to your direct manager and/or the Human Resource manager. Find out if your workplace has a policy to deal with workplace grievances. 
  • If internal methods are not successful you can get help from your union, Human Rights Commission, or Community Legal Centre. 
  • Remember that it is unlawful for you to be bullied, harassed or discriminated against because you breastfeed as well as it being unlawful for you to be harassed or discriminated against for standing up for your rights.

Helpful Links

The Legislation

Human Rights Commission

Working Women’s Resource Centre

NZ Council of Trade Unions