Q. An employee is due to be a father and has requested time off to attend an antenatal appointment. Do I need to allow him to do this?
A. Allowing staff time off to attend antenatal appointments is something that all employers must agree to, and the rules on this are defined within the Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999.
Pregnant employees must be allowed a reasonable amount of paid time off to attend antenatal care, regardless of their length of service.
They should also be paid their standard rate of pay for any time spent at any individual appointment.
The situation does, however, differ slightly for fathers, partners, or civil partners of pregnant women, as well as those who stand to become parents through a surrogacy arrangement.
Individuals in these ‘qualifying relationships’ may take unpaid time off to attend two antenatal appointments, taking up to six-and-a-half hours on each occasion.
Relevant agency workers will also qualify for this time off if they have been placed with the same hirer for at least 12 weeks.
There is currently no statutory requirement for employers to pay their employees for this time, but they can choose to do so.
Although employers cannot ask for evidence of the appointment, they can ask the employee for a signed declaration.
The declaration should confirm the date and time of the appointment, that they are eligible to benefit from this statutory right, and that the purpose of their time off is to accompany an expectant mother to an appointment.
Finally, the declaration should include that the appointment was made on the advice of a registered practitioner, midwife or nurse.
Employers do reserve the right to refuse time off for an antenatal appointment where it is reasonable to do so.
However, there is no specific guidance in the law as to what would be considered fair, and employers should, therefore, always aim to be accommodating towards these requests.
It may end up being very damaging to an ongoing employment relationship if an employee is denied the opportunity to go to these appointments.
Unreasonable refusal of a request may also result in a tribunal claim, which could lead to a tribunal and a payout of twice the hourly rate for the period when the employee would have been entitled to be absent, had they been granted the time off.
Ultimately, employers should outline their approach by creating a policy on time off for antenatal appointments that they review regularly.
This will act as an essential reference guide for staff and ensure that the company’s approach to antenatal leave does not breach existing legislation.
The Maternity and Parental Leave etc Regulations 1999 – a statutory instrument concerning UK labour law, which details the rights to maternity and parental leave for employees in the UK – is one of the two main pieces of legislation that currently offer protections for pregnant women and new mothers.