Attending ante-natal appointments
From 1 October 2014, an expectant father or the partner/spouse/civil partner (including same sex couples) of a pregnant woman will have a new right to take unpaid time off work to accompany the expectant mother to up to two ante-natal appointments. This right will also extend to expectant parents via a surrogacy arrangement providing they satisfy specific conditions.
The rationale behind this entitlement, according to the employer guide written by Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) on this matter (which can be found here), is to “encourage involvement of fathers with their children from the earliest possible stages”. As much as this is a worthy initiative to pursue, it appears to us that the new right has its deficiencies:
In an ideal world, every father of a child would play an active role both during pregnancy and after the child is born. Unfortunately, the reality is that there are still many expectant mothers who do not have this support. Last year, statistics showed there were 1.9 million lone parents in the UK with single mothers accounting for 91% of them. Their support may come from parents, siblings or a close friend.
However, the new law does not allow for this. Unpaid leave will only be available to the child’s father or the mother’s spouse, civil partner or partner in a long term relationship. The entitlement stretches to allow a father who is expecting children with two different women at the same time to attend ante-natal appointments for both of them (although it is accepted that this is a rare occurrence) but does not take into consideration the absence of a father. It seems rather optimistic to assume that all expectant fathers take responsibility during pregnancy, and unfair that those who stand in for absent fathers cannot claim the benefit of the entitlement instead.
Appointment time cap
Under the new legislation, those entitled can take unpaid leave to attend up to two ante-natal appointments, each appointment having a maximum time capped at six and a half hours per appointment. The BIS expect that “no more than half a day will be needed for an ante-natal appointment” and that the cap will cover “travelling time, waiting time and attendance at the appointment”. With this in mind, the time cap is fair and will mean that employees are not sanctioned if they are delayed in travelling to and from the appointment or having to wait to be seen.
On the other hand, an element of the entitlement will be wasted if an appointment takes less than the maximum time cap. There is no provision for unused time to be rolled over, for example, to allow attendance at further appointments which may require 13 hours (or less) time off in total, the entitlement is fixed at two appointments lasting requiring up to six and a half hours each in time off. BIS estimate that expectant mothers will attend around 10 ante-natal appointments during pregnancy. In light of this, a more practical and flexible approach would be to allow a total time off of 13 hours without limit on the number of appointments that might be attended.
Employers are of course free to allow an employee to take more time off than statute allows, if it so wishes.For further information on the issues raised in this article, please contact a member of the Spencer Wyatt team on 020 7925 8080 or by email at email@example.com.