From 1 October 2014, expectant fathers, or the partner of a pregnant woman, will be entitled to take unpaid time off work to accompany their partner to up to two antenatal appointments. The new legislation is designed to achieve the Government’s aim of encouraging greater involvement from both parents from the earliest stages of pregnancy. Article from law firm Simons, Muirhead & Burton.
The new right for eligible employees and agency workers to take unpaid time off work to accompany their partner to up to two ante-natal appointments is set out in new sections 57ZE to 57ZI of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA 1996). To accompany the new law, BIS have published ‘Time off to accompany a pregnant woman to ante-natal appointments: employer guide’ which sets out guidance for employers. Under the new law, an employee, from ‘day one’, will have the right to take unpaid time off during working hours to accompany a pregnant woman to an ante-natal appointment made on the advice of a designated health care professional. The right is available to: the husband, civil partner or partner of the pregnant woman; the father or parent of the pregnant woman’s expected child; and an intended parent in a surrogacy situation who meets specified conditions.
The right can be exercised on up to two occasions for a maximum of six and a half hours each time. The BIS guidance explains that it is expected that no more than half a day will be need for an ante-natal appointment and that this period seems a reasonable absence from work to cover travel, waiting time and attendance at an ante-natal appointment.An employee is not entitled to take time off unless the employee gives the employer, if the employer so requests, a declaration in the specified form. An employer can request an employee to provide a signed declaration stating: that the employee has a qualifying relationship with a pregnant woman or her expected child; that the employee’s purpose in taking time off is to accompany a pregnant woman to an ante-natal appointment; that the appointment in question is made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered nurse; and the date and time of the appointment.
An employee who is unreasonably refused time off can present a tribunal claim and if successful, will receive compensation of twice the hourly rate of pay for each of the hours the person would have taken off if the right had been respected. The same right applies to certain agency workers as set out in new S.57ZI of the ERA 1996 and if a worker is unreasonably refused time off by the temporary work agency, the hirer, or both, a complaint may be presented to a tribunal and if successful, the award will be the same as for an employee. An employee will have a right not to be subjected to a detriment and a right not to be unfairly dismissed, as a result of exercising or proposing to exercise a right to time off work to accompany a pregnant woman to an ante-natal appointment. A similar right is created for an agency worker not to be subjected to a detriment.
As the new law provides an additional right for qualifying employees and agency workers to request time off in the prescribed circumstances, employers should ensure they update their policies and procedures to reflect the statutory provisions, make all staff aware of the new right and that eligible workers are able to take up the right unless there is a very good reason for not allowing them to do so.