The UK has introduced a new right to unpaid time off to accompany a pregnant woman to ante-natal appointments. This right, contained in the Children and Families Act 2014, came into force on October 1, 2014 and is available to employees and qualifying agency workers.
The legislative change entitles employees (and agency workers who qualify) to unpaid leave to accompany the expectant mother to one or two ante-natal appointments, subject to a cap of six and a half hours for each appointment. The intention is that the time off will be sufficient to cover travel to, waiting time and attendance at the ante-natal appointments. The right to time off applies to:
- the baby’s father;
- the mother’s spouse, her civil partner, or partner (of either sex) in an enduring relationship (who is not a relative of the woman);
- one of a same sex couple who is going to be treated as the child’s other parent by virtue of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008; or
- the potential applicant for a parental order as part of a surrogacy arrangement by virtue of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008.
Unlike certain other family leave rights, this right is not subject to any requirement for employees to have a qualifying period of employment and so employees will be eligible from their first day of employment.
Employers should be mindful that if they deny an entitled employee/agency worker this right, he/she can complain to the Employment Tribunal within a three month period. Where the Employment Tribunal makes a finding that the employer has unreasonably refused to let the employee take time off, compensation will be twice the hourly rate of pay for each of the hours that the person would have taken off.
The new legislation raises a number of key considerations for employers:
- Inability to request evidence of appointments – Employers should be aware that they are not entitled to ask for any evidence of the ante-natal appointments. However, an employer is entitled to ask for a declaration stating:
a) the date and time of the appointment;
b) that the employee qualifies for the unpaid time off through his/her relationship with the mother or child; and
c) that the time off is to attend an ante-natal appointment with the expectant mother, made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, nurse or midwife.
- Revision of employee handbooks – Employers should use this change as an opportunity to update their employee handbooks to reflect this new right. Employers may wish to consider taking a flexible approach to their policy and may include a discretion to allow fathers to take additional time off on a case-by-case basis to attend other/additional appointments. Employers may also decide to take the opportunity to conduct a broader review of their family policies in light of other recent legislative updates such as the changes to the right to request flexible working.