Q - We have a pregnant employee asking for time off for her first antenatal appointment. What’s the law on this and do we have to pay her for that time. How long can she have to attend and does it include travel time?
A – Presuming you don’t have contractual rules stating any enhanced rights, then you need to know and comply with the statutory rules regarding this right.
Under ss.55 to 57 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, during her pregnancy, an employee has the right to be permitted a reasonable amount of paid (at their normal rate of pay) time off work to enable her to attend an antenatal clinic - if her attendance at that clinic has been recommended by a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor.
It is unlawful to refuse to pay the employee at your normal rate of pay for any time off but you can refuse to give such time off if reasonable to do so. There is no guidance or case law to determine when it may or may not be reasonable to refuse.
Antenatal care may include relaxation or parent craft classes as well as medical examinations, if these are recommended by their doctor. Any classes must have been recommended by a medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor and should be medical rather than educational. If she can, she should try to avoid taking time off work when she can reasonably arrange classes or examinations outside working hours.
If asked to do so, she must produce a certificate from a registered medical practitioner, midwife or health visitor confirming that she is pregnant, and an appointment card or other document confirming that she has made an appointment to attend an antenatal clinic. HOWEVER, this evidential requirement does not apply where she is seeking time off for the first antenatal appointment of her pregnancy.
Re including travel time, she is only entitled to paid time off for the actual appointment and any necessary travel and waiting time – whatever is ‘reasonable’ (‘reasonable’ is not defined – it just depends on the circumstances). So unless it is impractical for her to come into work before or after the appointment, you are not obliged to give her any further time off.
Also, bear in mind that since 1st October 2014, an expectant father or the partner (including same sex) of a pregnant woman is also entitled to take unpaid time off work to accompany the woman to up to 2 of her antenatal appointments.
The time off is capped at 6.5 hours for each appointment and there is no qualifying period before employees can take up the new rights.
“Partner” includes the spouse or civil partner of the pregnant woman and a person (of either sex) in a long term relationship with her. The right applies whether the child is conceived naturally or through donor insemination. It also extends 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 born through that arrangement.
You are not entitled to ask for any evidence of the antenatal appointments, such as an appointment card, as this is the property of the expectant mother attending the appointment.
You are entitled to ask the employee for a declaration stating the date and time of the appointment, that the employee qualifies for the unpaid time off through his or her relationship with the mother or child, and that the time off is for the purpose of attending an antenatal appointment with the expectant mother that has been made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, nurse or midwife.
A pregnant employee can throw up many issues and queries for employers – don’t be left in the dark – if you need any advice, just get in touch.