Time Off for fathers to attend Ante-Natal Appointments

From 1 October 2014 expectant fathers and partners of a pregnant woman will be entitled to take time off work to attend antenatal appointments with them.

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has produced a guide for employers, which sets out a series of FAQs including who is entitled, how much time an employee can take off, and an employee’s right to redress if their request for time off is refused. As always there is no substitute for reading the guidance. For once it is fairly short (8 pages) but neither the legislation nor the guidance is well thought out.

Employers can’t, the guidance says, ask for proof of the appointment (because that belongs to the mother) but can ask the employee father to make a declaration as to the time and date and the qualifying circumstances, and that he has attended (although in fact fathers have no right to attend).

The guide explains that the Government is aiming to achieve greater involvement of both of the child’s parents from the earliest stages of pregnancy. It also explains that “father” in this context is not limited to the biological parent, but extends to partners, and intended parents in a surrogacy agreement.

It even clarifies that if the mother’s partner is not the biological father both have the right to time off, though it helpfully suggests that the pregnant woman is “unlikely” to want them both to go together. The putative father of multiple pregnant women has rights to attend twice with all of them.

It is limited to two appointments and up to 6 hours 30 minutes each time, to include travel. This figure was decided upon as being half the maximum working day under the Working Time Regulations. The time off is unpaid, and any extra time will have to be taken as holiday. It will leave some awkward discussions about the extra time that is required to make up a full working day. Will the employee be expected to attend for a short period? Will they get anything done if they do (or will it be taken up showing everyone the scan?) Will employers have to consider allowing holiday of less than half a day ? Given that the maximum time may not be required will such discussions be sorted out afterwards? What if an optimistic father only asks for 5 hours and the appointment runs late – is that then disciplinary?

The right applies with no qualifying period. If an employer wrongfully denies this right they can go an Employment Tribunal and if success will be awarded a declaration and a payment of twice the amount they would have been paid for hours to which they were entitled. As the fee to start a claim in the Employment Tribunal is at least £160 this may not much of a deterrent to employers.

Employees can always request this as holiday, though wise fathers will be trying to preserve as much paid holiday as possible for after the birth.

For advice please contact Neil Howlett or Andy Hambleton.