From 1 October 2014 expectant fathers, or the partner of a pregnant woman, will be entitled to take unpaid time off work to attend ante-natal appointments with their partner.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has published guidance for employers “Time off to accompany a pregnant woman to ante-natal appointments” which sets out useful information about who qualifies for this right and answers “frequently asked questions” employers may have. Below is a summary of new fathers’ rights.
Who can take unpaid time off?
Employees (and qualifying agency workers) are entitled to time off if they are in a “qualifying relationship”. To be in a “qualifying relationship” the employee must be:
- The baby’s father;
- The expectant mother’s spouse, her civil partner or partner (of either sex) in an enduring relationship or;
- The intended parent of a child in a surrogacy arrangement if they expect to be entitled to and intend to apply for a Parental Order in respect of that child.
When is an employee eligible to exercise this right?
There is no qualifying period of employment. Employees accrue this right “on day one” of their employment. However, qualifying agency workers are required to have been doing the same kind of job for the same hirer for at least 12 weeks.
How much time can the person accompanying the expectant mother take off?
The right is to time off on up to two occasions for a maximum of 6 hours and 30 minutes per appointment. Employers can give employees more time off if they wish to do so.
Paid or unpaid?
The right is for unpaid time off. This contrasts with the employment rights of a pregnant woman who will be paid her normal hourly rate during the period of time off for antenatal care. Again, an employer can pay an employee for time off if they wish to do so.
What evidence will have to be provided?
An employer is not entitled to ask for any evidence of ante-natal appointments, such as an appointment card, as this is the property of the expectant mother attending the appointment. However, 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 the 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.
Refusing an employee time off to accompany an expectant mother to ante natal appointment
Any employee or agency worker who is entitled to unpaid time off to accompany the expectant mother to an appointment and is denied this right by their employer can complain to the Employment Tribunal within a 3 month period.
If the Tribunal upholds the complaint it must make a declaration and order compensation to be paid. The amount of compensation is calculated as twice the hourly rate of pay for each of the hours that the person would have taken off if the right had been granted.
Employers should also ensure that fathers who seek to exercise this right are not subjected to any detriment for example being denied promotion or job opportunities; if an employee is subjected to a detriment or dismissed as a result of exercising or seeking to exercise these rights their dismissal would be automatically unfair.
This right comes into force next month and employers should consider reviewing their employment documents including maternity and paternity policies and inform employees of their new rights.
By Charlotte Caldwell
Solicitor at Hill Dickinson LLP