It has been the case for many years now that a pregnant woman is entitled to take paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments. Up until now, there has not been any equivalent right to entitle anyone, such as the expectant father, to accompany a pregnant woman to such appointments.
From 1 October, anyone who has a ‘qualifying relationship’ with an expectant mother (essentially someone who is the expectant father or is in a relationship with the expectant mother) will be entitled to take time off work to accompany the woman to her antenatal appointments. The new provisions are not particularly generous as there will be no right to be paid for the periods of absence during working hours and the right only extends to a maximum of two appointments, up to a maximum of 6.5 hours each in duration.
New Shared Parental Leave regime
This legal change is linked to the new regime for Shared Parental Leave and is intended to encourage fathers to be involved with their children from the earliest possible stage, albeit for no more than a maximum of 13 hours. Given this intention, it seems odd that there will be no right to be paid for such leave, although employers may choose to be more generous and provide normal pay regardless.
The failure to pay an expectant father who takes such leave when his pregnant partner would be paid for attending the same appointment could be perceived as discriminatory on the grounds of sex. However, we can take comfort from recent case law that there would be no discrimination in this situation as both men and women (e.g. a same sex partner of a pregnant woman) who exercise this right would be treated in the same way. Neither of them would be legally entitled to receive any pay.
The 6.5 hour time limit could be particularly problematic for the hospitality sector, where shift patterns could mean that an employee misses an entire shift by exercising this right. Given that such appointments usually take place between the hours of 9am and 5pm, you could also find that employees exercising this right are absent from work at some of the busiest times of the day, when your client demands are at their highest. In addition, employees who work nights may argue for time off in lieu if they are taking the statutory time off in the day during what would otherwise have been their rest hours before a work shift.
This right will be available to employees from the day an employee commences employment with their employer and will also be available to agency workers once they have completed 12 weeks’ service.
If an employee is denied the right to take the time off, they can make a complaint to an employment tribunal and claim compensation. It is, therefore, important that you make your managers aware of this new right so that they do not deprive people of the opportunity and inadvertently expose you to risk.