From 1st October expectant fathers, partners and parents of a pregnant woman will be entitled to unpaid time off work to accompany the woman to up to 2 of her ante natal appointments of up to a maximum of 6 1/2 hours each.
The Department of Business, innovation & Skills have produced an employer guide containing a number of FAQs which you may find useful.
There will, of course, be certain formalities that will require to be complied with by the requesting employee or agency worker when making a request for time off. For example, providing confirmation that the relationship is a “qualifying relationship” and the time and date of the ante natal appointments. However, the biggest headache for employers is likely to be deciding when they can ‘safely’ refuse a request when it’s just not possible to allow time off. Requests can be refused when it is reasonable to do so but, unfortunately, there is no guidance on this (just as there is no guidance or case law as to when it would be reasonable to refuse a pregnant woman time off to attend an ante natal appointment).
Get it wrong and unreasonably refuse time off, employees and agency workers can bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal. Compensation is twice the hourly rate paid for the time which would have been taken off had they been allowed to attend the appointment. Perhaps not the most costly claim, but one that will also incur legal costs, management time and possibly bad PR. Where compensation is likely to be more significant is where the employee or agency worker has suffered a detriment or has been dismissed (and that dismissal will be automatically unfair) because they have exercised or have sought to exercise their new right.
To avoid any misunderstandings, update your company handbook including details of what you need your staff to do to book time off and circumstances when you may have to refuse a request and how this will be dealt with.
And on a related note, don’t forget that we can soon look forward to the introduction of Shared Parental Leave for employees whose expected week of childbirth is on or after 5 April 2015. Expectant mothers now reaching 12 weeks of pregnancy will be notifying their employers (if they haven’t already) of their pregnancy and they (or their partners) may start asking questions soon about this new scheme. Don’t get caught out and update your policies and procedures.
If you want to discuss these matters further or to book your place at our Employment Law Seminar: Controlling Social media in the workplace, please contact Donna Reynolds.