Currently pregnant women are entitled to attend ante-natal appointments during working hours. As of the 1 October employees and agency workers who have a "qualifying relationship" with the mother can accompany her to these appointments.
It is important to note that this time off to accompany will be unpaid and only allows the employee or agency worker to attend up to two appointments which last for no more than six and a half hours each. Of course an employer is entitled to pay the employee or agency worker for the time off if they wish. The Government's guidance states that the six and a half hours is intended to cover travelling to and from the appointment, any waiting time and the appointment itself.
There are a number of ways in which an employee or agency worker can have a "qualifying relationship" with the mother, including where they are their husband or partner; or if they are the child's father. The guidance acknowledges that the pregnant woman's husband or partner may not be the child's father and in that situation both would have the right to accompany, albeit the mother may not want them both to attend. It is not necessary for the employee to have a qualifying length of service to enjoy the right to accompany, but agency workers do require to have worked for the employer for at least 12 weeks with no interruptions between assignments or during an assignment.
When making a request the employer can require the employee or agency worker to provide the following information before the request will be granted: what their "qualifying relationship" with the mother is; confirming that the time off is to attend an ante-natal appointment that has been made on the advice of a registered doctor, registered midwife or registered nurse; and the date and time of the appointment. However the guidance makes clear that the employer cannot require evidence of the appointment, such as the appointment card, to be presented.
An employer can refuse the request where it is reasonable to do so. However an employee or agency worker will be entitled to bring a Tribunal claim if they believe the refusal was unreasonable. If they are successful the compensation awarded will be twice the hourly rate for the time when the employee or agency worker would have been off had their request been allowed. Unfortunately the guidance does not provide any examples of when a refusal to grant a request may be reasonable. However as the employer could potentially be liable for a refusal it should consider each request carefully and ensure any reasons for refusal are well thought out. Employers may wish to consider amending existing policies to incorporate this new right and to detail how a request can be made (including what information the employer requires) and how the employer will deal with the request. As always every request should be dealt with on an equal basis to avoid any appearance of discrimination.
Those who exercise their right to take time off to accompany a pregnant woman will be protected from suffering a detriment for doing so. Moreover if the principal reason for an employee's dismissal is that they exercised this right, the dismissal will be automatically unfair.
If you are an employer or employee and would like more information on how this new right will operate, please contact a member of the employment team who will be happy to advise you.