Paid time off for antenatal care

You are entitled to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care, provided that the care has been recommended by a doctor, midwife or health visitor. Employers cannot ask you to make up the time or use annual leave, and they cannot refuse to pay you while taking time off for antenatal care. Here’s everything you need to know about your rights.

Most pregnant women attend between seven and 10 antenatal appointments during pregnancy. Every pregnancy is different, though, and the number and nature of appointments can vary. Nothing changes the fact that you are entitled to a reasonable amount of paid leave for antenatal care.

The right to paid time off for antenatal care applies to employees. It also applies to agency workers who have been continuously employed in the same placement for at least 12 weeks (see below).

If your employer/agency refuses to give you time off, or to pay you for time off for antenatal care, you can bring a claim in an employment tribunal. More information on that is at the foot of this page, although hopefully it won’t come to that.

Your employer is not allowed to disadvantage you in any way because you have asked for or taken time off for antenatal care. This extends to situations such as redundancy selection exercises where it would be unlawful to include time off for antenatal appointments when calculating how often a person had been absent, for example.

What is antenatal care?

There are no legal criteria what constitute antenatal care. You are entitled to be paid for antenatal appointments with a doctor, midwife of health visitor. You are also entitled to be paid for any other pregnancy-related appointments which a health professional has recommended.

These could include: antenatal classes (also known as parentcraft), alternative medicine, such as hypnotherapy or specific pregnancy exercise classes and even classes on giving up smoking, if it’s been recommended by a healthcare professional.

How to ask for time off for antenatal care

It is always a good idea to check with your employer first if you want time off for a particular appointment, and if your employer has a good reason for refusing a particular date then you would be expected to change it if possible. However, an employer is not allowed to act unreasonably in refusing you the time off.

There needs to be a balance between your needs and that of your employer. So if you have got an urgent appointment to see a consultant about an issue that relates to yours or your baby's health, your employer is acting unreasonably if they try to refuse you paid time off.

On the flip side, if your employer asks you to put off your pregnancy yoga class to attend the most important business meeting of the year, your employer is probably not being unreasonable.

Your employer is not entitled to ask you to use your annual leave for antenatal appointments. You have a right to paid leave for antenatal appointments in addition to your holiday rights.

Do I have to make up time for antenatal care?

No. Your employer cannot ask you to make up the time that you have taken for antenatal appointments. Make sure, though, that you only use time necessary for the actual appointment and any necessary travel and waiting time, especially if your employer is the type who resents employees attending antenatal appointments (sadly, they exist – see below).

You’ll need to decide whether it’s impractical for you to go into work before or after the appointment, as your employer is not obliged to give you any further time off. If it makes sense, you could suggest working from home before or after the appointment, depending on your employer’s attitude to that.

Can my employer ask for proof of antenatal care?

Your employer cannot ask you to provide proof of your first antenatal appointment. They are entitled, however, to ask you to prove that you have subsequent antenatal appointments, and will only be required to give you paid time off if you provide that proof.

Normally proof will be in the form of an appointment card or similar from your doctor or midwife or other health professional. Your employer cannot insist on seeing your MATB1 maternity certificate for proof of pregnancy, as that isn’t issued until you’re at least 20 weeks’ pregnant.

If the antenatal appointment is for something that is not obviously medical in nature then you may be asked to prove that it has been recommended by a health professional. So make sure that the doctor/midwife/health visitor provides some sort of proof that you can show your employer if they ask.

Part-time workers time off for antenatal care

If you work part-time you can have a particular problem getting paid time off for antenatal appointments, as your employer may feel that you could easily make the appointments outside working hours. But this may not be reasonable if you have no option but to have an appointment on the date given to you. It is not always possible to change appointments and busy clinics can overrun.

The law is no different for part timers than for full timers – that is, your employer cannot unreasonably refuse to allow the paid time off, and there needs to be a balance between the needs of the employer and the pregnant employee.

Often, part-timers will have other commitments, including childcare or other jobs, which means that they need to attend antenatal appointments during their working hours.

If an employer refuses to allow part-time employees to have paid time off for antenatal care simply on the grounds that they are part-time, then this is likely to be discrimination on the grounds of part time status, as well as potentially pregnancy discrimination.

Pay and time off for antenatal care

You are entitled to be paid at your normal hourly rate. This may be specified in your contract, or you may be able to calculate it from your weekly rate of pay divided by the number of hours you work.

If you don't work a set pattern of hours then you work out your hourly rate for this purpose by taking an average of the 12 working weeks prior to the appointment. If there were any weeks which you did not work – the 12 prior to the appointment – those weeks should not be factored into the calculation and an earlier week should be used.

In most cases you should not include any overtime when working out your hourly rate – overtime can only be included if your contract specifically entitles you to it.

Agency workers time off for antenatal care

If you work as an agency worker, then you will not have the right to take time off for antenatal appointments unless you have worked for at least 12 weeks in your current role. If you have worked for that long, then you have the same rights as a permanent employee. For agency workers’ rights, see here.

Can my partner get paid leave to come to antenatal appointments?

Fathers and partners are entitled to unpaid time off to go with you to two antenatal appointments (six-and-a-half hours for each appointment). Some employers provide paid time off so you should check your contract.

What to do if your employer refuses paid time off for antenatal care

It is illegal for employers to refuse their employees paid time off for antenatal care. No two pregnancies are the same, so the number, frequency and nature of antenatal appointments each woman needs can vary significantly. Employers should understand this.

Sadly, some employers resent having to pay employees while they attend antenatal appointments. But don’t put up with it. Stand your ground and know your rights – as discussed above – and remember: you need to attend your appointments so that doctors and midwives can pick up on any problems as early as possible and generally ensure that you have the most comfortable pregnancy possible. This is about your health and your baby’s health.

If your employer refuses to let you have time off or does not pay you for time off for your antenatal care, you can bring a claim at tribunal under section 57 (section 57ZC for agency workers) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Be quick, though, as you must bring the claim within three months of your employer’s refusal.

To get free and impartial advice, you must contact ACAS within the time limit to start Early Conciliation on 0300 123 11 00 before you make a tribunal claim.

Can I get paid leave for IVF treatment?

Around one in seven couples struggle to conceive. For many of them, IVF is a way to improve their chances of having a child. The numbers of women receiving IVF treatment is rising, as are the success rates. The laws regarding leave for IVF treatment are still adapting, but employers are advised to be sensitive and accommodating to employees undergoing treatment.

As yet there is no statutory right for employees to take time off work to undergo investigations or treatment. This means that appointments before a pregnancy occurs are not covered by the time off for antenatal care arrangements.

However, the Equality and Human Rights Commission Code recommends that employers treat employees’ requests for leave for IVF treatment sympathetically. What this means in practice is that employers should treat medical appointments related to IVF the same as any other medical appointment under the terms and conditions of the employee’s contract. Employers may agree to flexible working arrangements or a combination of paid, unpaid, or annual leave during IVF treatment.

Once implantation has occurred, a woman is considered to be pregnant. This means she is protected from dismissal or adverse treatment under the Equality Act 2010 pregnancy legislation. If you are undergoing IVF treatment then you should notify your employer once you reach this stage. A pregnancy test is usually taken two weeks after implantation.

If the treatment is successful and the woman remains pregnant, she will be protected against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy until the end of her maternity leave (just like any other pregnant woman). If IVF treatment is unsuccessful, the protection will end two weeks after the end of the pregnancy (that’s two weeks after the negative pregnancy test).

If you were disadvantaged because of taking time off in relation to the latter stages of IVF, you might have a discrimination claim. You need to take advice if this has happened to you.

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