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The Breastfeeding Mothers Bill, 2019 (the Bill) was introduced to the National Assembly on 18 October 2019. It requires employers to provide breastfeeding mothers with the time and space to freely express breastmilk, prescribes minimum standards for lactation stations and introduces penalties for non-compliant employers.
Current Law on Breastfeeding at the Workplace
The Health Act, (Act No. 21 of 2017) (the Health Act) already requires all Kenyan employers regardless of size or nature of work to establish lactation stations in the workplace for employees expressing milk. The Health Act requires the lactation stations to be equipped with the necessary equipment and facilities, including handwashing equipment, refrigerators or appropriate cooling facilities, electrical outlets for breast pumps, a small table and comfortable seats.
Following the enactment of the Health Act, the Ministry of Health published “Guidelines for Securing a Breastfeeding Friendly Environment at The Work Place” in May 2018. The guidelines provide direction to public and private institutions on how to create breastfeeding-friendly workplaces.
The Breastfeeding Mothers Bill, 2019
As indicated above, the Bill introduces a stronger statutory framework to protect, promote and support breastfeeding especially among working mothers. Below are the salient provisions of the Bill.
a. Lactation Stations
Employers should already be aware that there is a legal requirement under the Health Act to provide lactation stations for breastfeeding mothers.
The Bill now provides minimum standards for the lactation stations and provides that every station shall:
In addition to the minimum standards, the Bill requires employers to provide a physical environment that is safe for the baby as well as appropriate programs that develop a baby’s cognitive, emotional, social and language abilities.
It is important to note that failure to meet the minimum standards in respect of the lactation stations would attract a fine not exceeding KES 500,000 (approx. USD 5,000) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year, or to both.
b. Breastfeeding Time and Flexible Work Arrangements
The Bill requires employers to allow a reasonable break time to a lactating mother for purposes of breastfeeding the baby or expressing milk. The break time shall be considered to be within working hours and shall not exceed forty minutes every four hours worked.
In addition to the above, the Bill allows employees to apply for a flexible work arrangement to breastfeed or express milk.
The flexible work arrangement shall specify:
The employer is required to respond in writing within 14 days of receipt of such an application.
c. Baby Changing Facility in Public Spaces
In addition to the protections for breastfeeding mothers, the Bill introduces an interesting requirement for public spaces. It provides that any “person who owns, leases, or rents a public or private building accessible to the public, which has a facility which has a minimum occupancy of fifty persons, shall install a baby changing facility”.
The baby changing facility shall be clean and private, have a baby changing table, have a waste bucket and have signs indicating its location.
Any contravention of the provisions of the Bill will attract a fine not exceeding KES 1 million (approx. USD 10,000) and/or imprisonment for not more than one year.
The Bill is currently being debated in the Kenyan National Assembly and has passed the 1st Reading stage. However, employers should be aware of current and future obligations vis-a-vis nursing mothers especially on the expanded standards for lactation stations.