Q. Do my employees have a right to time off to attend doctor or dentist appointments?
A. Most will agree that arranging routine doctors and dentist appointments around work commitments can be burdensome at times. However, despite what some employees may believe, there is generally no statutory right to time off work to attend these appointments.
Ultimately, it is up to you as an employer to determine whether you are going to allow staff the time off to attend these appointments, as well as if they can expect to be paid for this time.
Much of this will depend on your specific circumstances and how far you stand to be disadvantaged by employees taking time off during the working day.
Whichever stance you take, you should outline this clearly in staff contracts and any relevant workplace policies.
Having said this, there is a possibility that having a blanket policy that refuses time off for medical appointments could be indirectly discriminatory to disabled employees, who may have a greater need to attend appointments due to their condition.
In light of this, it will always be advisable to include a caveat that states time off may be given under certain circumstances and at the manager’s discretion.
It is also worth considering that in some instances employees may need to attend an urgent medical or dental appointment, meaning the time away from work in these situations is likely to be classed as sickness absence.
When this occurs, it will be important to process this time off in the same way as any other instance of sickness and ensure the employee receives any contractual or statutory sick pay where necessary.
You should also be aware of exemptions when it comes to pregnant employees, who have a specific right to reasonable paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments, provided these are made on the advice of a doctor, midwife or registered nurse.
Expectant fathers and partners also have the right to take 6.5 hours off at a time to attend two antenatal appointments, however there is no requirement to pay them for this time.
Alternatively, if you did want to adopt a more flexible approach you could allow staff to take time off during the day for appointments, provided they agree to ‘make it up’ by working additional hours at the earliest possible opportunity.
Again, you do not have to agree to this, however, if you choose to adopt this practice it will be important to keep accurate records of how much time is being taken off and when the employee intends to work it back.
Peter Done is managing director of law firm Peninsula