Questions and Answers with Michelle Poirier
INFACT: What is the decision?
M.P.: To my mind, the most important aspect of the decision
is Mr. Patchs conclusion that discrimination against a
woman because she is breastfeeding is discrimination on the basis
Secondly, Mr. Patch decided that
the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, by introducing a policy excluding
children from the workplace without providing me as a breastfeeding
mother with reasonable accommodation, discriminated against me.
In other words, I had a right as an employee to address physical
needs as a breastfeeding mother without impediment from my employer--as
long as accommodating those needs did not impose undue hardship
on my employer.
INFACT: What does the decision mean?
M.P.: Technically what I believe this decision to mean
is that unless an employer can prove that there are genuine business
reasons to disallow children in the workplace, breastfeeding
women in BC have the right to have their children brought to
them to be fed if they feel that is the best way for them to
meet their breastfeeding needs.
It also means, as I understand
it, that if, for genuine business reasons a breastfeeding mother
cannot have access to her childor if feeding her child
is not the best way for her to meet her physical needsher
employer must provide alternative accommodation: for example,
allow the women to leave the workplace during breaks or allow
the women to modify her work and break scheduleor give
the women access to a private, quiet suitable space to feed her
child or to express her breastmilk.
INFACT: Why is this decision important?
M.P.: Legally this decision is important because it sets
a precedent. When I first went to the council for human rights,
as it was then known, to ask if my employer could discriminate
against me because I was breastfeeding, I was told, We
So, in order to establish if I
even had grounds to ask my employer to act more reasonably, they
said I had to file a complaint. At the time, I not only did not
have the courage to file a complaint, I also felt it was not
the most productive course of action.
Without legal clarity I had to
argue for accommodation using only my personal logic, a logic
my employer could dismiss arbitrarily.
This decision, then, has the potential
to prevent employers from taking actions that could form the
basis for complaints. And will certainly support the resolution
of complaints out of court.
Socially this decision is important
in that any measure that supports womens unimpeded access
to the workplace has value, for women and the economy.
Any measure that supports mothers
to prolong breastfeeding for as long as they feel their children
will benefit has immeasurable value, for children, for women,
for employers and for society. Children are healthier, mothers
are less stressed and employers enjoy greater productivity and
less absenteeism. And we all benefit from savings to the health
INFACT: How do you feel about the decision?
M.P.: The fact that we have a decision is one thing. And
theres a small part of me thats dancing a soft little
jig and saying, Yippee, its over.
The decision itself is, of course,
largely what we were seeking; to that end, it is useful. In the
end there is a certain satisfaction that even when the evidence
is stripped down to the barest essentials, the discrimination
against me is obvious. It is clear that for an employer to schedule
work related events during a noon break and then not accommodate
the needs of a lactating employee either to bring her child with
her, or to sanction an alternative break for her to go to her
child, is discrimination on the basis of sex.
In her news release Michelle Poirier
made special mention to thank INFACT Canada. She said, The
many years of work they have done researching and advocating
for legal protection of womens rights to breastfeed meant
they were able to provide valuable research materials and precious
encouragement at critical times. I am greatly indebted to them.