New right to accompany partner to antenatal appointments

Currently if a father or partner of a pregnant employee wants to accompany their partner to attend an antenatal appointment, they have to use up holiday entitlement.

After 1 October, they will gain the right to statutory time off – albeit unpaid- during working hours, to accompany the pregnant woman to two such appointments. This new right is pursuant to Part 8 of the new Children and Families Act 2014. Up to 6.5 hours leave is permitted for each appointment.

The conditions for the exercising of this right are:

  • The father or partner must be in a “qualifying relationship” with a pregnant woman or her expected child, meaning: a husband or civil partner , or cohabiting in an “enduring family relationship”, the unborn child’s father, a same-sex partner where the child was conceived by sperm donation or lastly an intended parent in a surrogacy arrangement;
  • It is not mandatory to produce evidence of the qualifying relationship, the purpose of the time off or the fact of the appointment unless the employer requires such proof. An employer can request an employee to provide a signed declaration stating these things including 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 cannot take the time off until they have provided this evidence, if it has been requested. It is to be hoped employers will be consistent across the workforce with regard to whether evidence is sought and if so in what form;
  • The more notice of the appointment the better, since an employer can refuse the request if it is “reasonable” to do so;
  • For employees this is a day one right, but agency workers only qualify after serving a 12 week qualifying period in the same role without breaks during or in between assignments;
  • An employer can pay the father or partner during this time, but there is no statutory obligation to do so;
  • Claims for automatically unfair dismissal may be brought if these fathers or partners are dismissed for exercising the right; a detriment claim could also be brought;
  • If Tribunals find that the employer unreasonably refused to allow the employee time off, they can award compensation equivalent to double the father / partner’s hourly rate for the time they were entitled to take off.

Other key points to note are that –

These new rights echo existing rights for pregnant women to have the right to time off for such appointments, save that such leave is paid and that a pregnant woman is not limited in the number of such appointments she may attend during work time.

It appears there is no need for the expectant mother to be an employee or agency worker herself for these new rights to apply.

The right is to accompany; the pregnant woman can refuse to have the individual present at the appointment.

From 5 April 2015 equivalent provisions are coming into force for adopters where they will be allowed paid and unpaid time off work to attend meetings in advance of a child being placed with them.

By Rachel Crasnow