Pregnancy at work
Employees' right to paid time off for antenatal care
All pregnant employees have the right to reasonable paid time off to attend antenatal care appointments. Antenatal care covers not only medical examinations related to the pregnancy but also, for example, relaxation classes and parent-craft classes. There is no service requirement for this right.
However, the right to time off only applies if the appointment is advised by a midwife, health visitor or registered medical practitioner (eg a doctor).
Therefore, you are entitled to ask for evidence of antenatal appointments - except in the case of the very first appointment.
You can request that the employee shows you:
- written documentation from a registered medical practitioner, a midwife or a health visitor confirming that she is pregnant
- an appointment card or some other document showing that an appointment has been made
Reasonable time off for medical appointments
The law does not set out what 'reasonable' means regarding time off. Employees must request the time off and have a right not to be unreasonably refused time off. Tribunals are likely to find unreasonable to be a refusal of appointments which are made on the basis of medical advice. Part time employees should not be pressurised to take appointments on their days off.
The amount of time off will depend on the time that the appointment is made and it will not be unreasonable for an employer to expect an employee to attend for the part of the day that they can outside the appointment time. Time off also includes travel to and waiting time for appointments. Abuse of the time off provisions may normally be handled under the absence management procedures, but should be handled with caution.
Payment during time off
You must pay the employee her normal hourly rate during the period of time off for antenatal care.
Calculate the rate by dividing the amount of a week's pay by the number of the employee's normal working hours in a week. The normal working hours will usually be set out in her contract of employment.
If her weekly working hours vary, you should average them over the previous 12 complete working weeks. If the employee has yet to complete 12 weeks' service, estimate the average in light of:
- what could be reasonably expected from her contract of employment
- the work pattern of any fellow employees in comparable jobs
Overtime is counted only if it is required and contractually guaranteed.
Complaints relating to time off for antenatal care
A pregnant employee could bring an unlawful discrimination and/or unfair dismissal claim to a tribunal if you:
- dismiss her or treat her unfairly because she tried to exercise her right to time off for antenatal care
- unreasonably refuse her time off for antenatal care
- deny her normal rate of pay during such time off
A pregnant employee can bring a claim regardless of whether or not:
- she actually has exercised the right to paid time off for antenatal care
- that right has actually been infringed
All she has to have done is act in good faith in seeking to assert the right.
Time off to accompany to antenatal appointments
Following changes to the Work and Families Act in April 2015, both employees and Agency workers, who have a qualifying relationship with the pregnant woman or her expected child, have the right to unpaid time off to attend up to two antenatal appointments. The employee or agency worker must request the time off and cannot simply rely on these provisions as an after-the-fact justification for the absence from work.
A person in a qualifying relationship would include:
- the husband or civil partner of the pregnant woman
- a person who lives with the pregnant woman in an enduring family relationship (including same sex couples) but is not a relative of that woman
- the father of the expected child
- a woman who is deemed to be the parent of the expected child under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008
- either of the intended parents who are expecting a child from a surrogate mother and who are eligible for and intend to apply for a Parental Order (or have obtained such an Order)
The time off for each appointment is capped at 6.5 hours.
Spouse or civil partner
Although the regulations state that a person is in a qualifying relationship with a pregnant woman if he or she is the husband or civil partner of that woman, it is presumably the case that this category would also extend to the wife of the pregnant woman. Paragraph 7.1 of Part 2 of the Marriage (Same-sex Couples) and Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2019, provides that any reference in legislation to a person who is married is to be read as including a reference to a person who is married to a person of the same sex.
LRA Workplace Information Service03300 555 300