Recently I was asked by an employer if they have to give paid time off to pregnant employees for antenatal appointments.
The short answer to this is yes. Pregnant employees and agency workers are entitled to reasonable time off for antenatal appointments and should be paid at their normal rate of pay whilst doing so. This includes travel time. The entitlement is regardless of the hours worked or their length of service.
Antenatal care is not defined by the legislation but according to government guidance, antenatal care can include not only medical appointments but also relaxation classes and parentcraft classes, provided that these are recommended by a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor.
There is no limit on the number of antenatal appointments employees may attend and there are no particular formalities needed to exercise the right. Except for the first appointment, employees should show the employer, if requested, an appointment card or other documents showing that an appointment has been made.
While you cannot unreasonably refuse an employee or worker time off to attend, you may refuse time off where it is reasonable to do so. There is no guidance in the legislation as to when it would be reasonable to refuse a request for time off and little or no case law to assist, therefore we would advise erring on the side of caution in deciding whether it is reasonable to refuse such a request.
An employee or agency worker is entitled to be paid at her normal hourly rate of pay during the period of time off for antenatal care. The rate is calculated by dividing the amount of a week’s pay by the number of their normal working hours in a week. If her working hours vary from week to week, they should be averaged over the previous 12 weeks.
Employees or agency workers can bring a tribunal claim if they are unreasonably refused time off for antenatal care or denied their normal rate of pay during time off for antenatal care. Remedies that may be awarded include a declaration and an award of compensation.
Right to accompany a pregnant woman to an antenatal appointment
Fathers, partners and civil partners of a pregnant woman are entitled to unpaid time off during working hours to accompany her to two antenatal appointments, lasting no more than six and a half hours each. There is no length of service restriction on this right for employees but agency workers must have completed their 12 week qualifying period.
If you require them to do so, employees and agency workers must comply with certain formalities for applying to time off to accompany a woman to an antenatal appointment. If required, they must provide a document showing:
- that they have a qualifying relationship with the pregnant woman or expected child;
- that the purpose of taking the time off is to accompany a pregnant woman to an antenatal appointment;
- that the appointment has been made on the advice of a registered doctor, registered midwife or registered nurse; and
- the date and time of the appointment.
Time off may be refused but only if it reasonable to do so. Employees or agency workers can bring a tribunal claim if they are unreasonably refused time off to accompany a pregnant woman to antenatal appointments.
Employees or agency workers who are the main adopter or adopting alone will be able to take paid time off for up to five adoption appointments. The secondary adopter will be entitled to take unpaid time off for up to 2 appointments. The appointments may last up to six and a half hours each.
Where employees or agency workers are adopting more than one child as part of the same arrangement (for example, where siblings are to be placed with the same adopter), the allowance will apply to the arrangement as a whole.
If they are requested to do so by the employer, the employee or agency worker must give the employer, a document showing:
- that they would like to take either paid time off or unpaid time off;
- the date and time of the appointment;
- that the appointment has been arranged by or at the request of the adoption agency; and
- if the employee or agency worker is a joint adopter, a signed declaration that they have elected to take time off.
Again, time off may be refused but only if it reasonable to do so. Employees or agency workers can bring a tribunal claim if they are unreasonably refused paid or unpaid time off for adoption appointments or denied all or part of any amount to which they were entitled when taking paid time off.
The right to two unpaid antenatal appointments will also extend to those who will become parents through a surrogacy arrangement, if they expect to satisfy the conditions for, and intend to apply for a Parental Order for the child.
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Fiona Wheeler is a Trainee Solicitor at Helix. She recently completed the Graduate Diploma of Law at the University of Brighton, winning the Thomson Reuters prize for best overall mark, and is currently studying the Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in parallel with her training contract.
This article is written to raise awareness of the issues it discusses and it may not be updated after it is first written, even if the law changes. It is not intended to be legal advice and cannot be relied on as such. Helix Law is not responsible or liable for any action taken or not taken as a result of this article. If you think the matters set out affect you and you wish to apply them to your particular circumstances then we are happy to give you free initial telephone advice.