Can I take time off for my baby’s doctor appointments?

My employer was great at letting me take time off for hospital appointments when my partner was pregnant, but now the baby is here I’m worried about asking for time off to go to their medical appointments. What’s acceptable?

close up of female doctor with stethoscope listening to baby girl's patient heartbeat or breath at clinic or hospital

 

At workingdads.co.uk we’ve brought together a team of experts to answer your questions. We call them….The Dadvengers.

We know working dads have concerns. It might be a HR query about applying for flexible working. Or maybe you find it hard to switch off from work and give your family your full attention. Maybe you’ve taken some time out to raise your kids and you’re looking to get back into the workplace. We know people that can help, so get in touch.

This week employment lawyer Steven Eckett explains what you’re entitled to when it comes to taking time off for all those appointments new babies need.

 

It is great to hear that your employer has been so accommodating in letting you take time off for hospital appointments during your partner’s pregnancy. As a father in waiting you already had rights in law, for example the right to time off work to accompany your partner to two antenatal appointments. The entitlement would be to take a maximum of 6.5 hours per appointment including travelling and waiting time. Unfortunately, there is no entitlement to pay although some employers are more generous than others and will agree to pay their employees to take time off for such purposes.

Once the baby has been born taking time off to attend their routine medical appointments or when they are sick can be challenging.

Review employer’s policies

The first recommendation would be to review your employer’s policies and procedures which may be set out in a staff handbook. These policies and procedures may provide contractual entitlements to greater enhanced levels of pay in such circumstances than the statutory levels set in law and you may be entitled to request a change in working hours to enable you to combine your responsibilities as a carer.

If the baby is suffering from a long-term medical condition, then it can be even more difficult to maintain a full-time job with responsibilities as a primary carer.

In the event that your employer has no policies and procedures that offer enhanced payments and time off then the law does provide minimum standards of support.

I will set these out as follows:-

Parental Leave

There is the option of Parental Leave however the drawback is that such leave is unpaid unless your employer agrees to pay you or there is a contractual entitlement.

To qualify for Parental leave, you must have one year’s qualifying period of continuous employment and you will need to give your employer 21 days’ notice. The maximum amount of time that you can take for Parental Leave is four weeks for any one child per year which must be taken in blocks of weeks. If the child is disabled, then you are entitled to take time off in multiples of one day meaning that such leave can be taken to attend hospital visits.

The right to parental leave is for both parents separately and in theory each parent can take 18 weeks’ unpaid Parental leave for each child before they are 18 years old.

The main problem with Parental leave is that it is unpaid, and this will do very little to encourage parents to take such leave especially if they are the main breadwinner and cannot afford to exercise this legal right.

Shared Parental Leave

You may qualify where you may be able to  share parental leave and time off with your Partner of up to 50 weeks leave and 37 weeks statutory shared paternity pay.  The downside once again is that such payments are usually capped unless your employer has an enhanced contractual policy to pay more.

Time off for Dependents

Parents are entitled to exercise their rights to take time off for family emergencies which would include taking your child to hospital if anything happened requiring immediate medical attention such as an urgent hospital visit. There is no cap on the amount of time that can be taken off however the law suggests that it has to be reasonable. The difficulty with this legal right is that it only covers emergencies and not planned hospital appointments and once again it is unpaid unless your employer wishes to be more generous and pay you at your full salary level or they have an enhanced contractual policy in place.

The right to request flexible working arrangements

All employees have the right to request changes to their working hours, including reducing their hours of work or their place of work or to work from home.

You will need to have been employed at least 26 weeks by the time the request is made and have not made a request in the past 12 months. The law requires the employee to make a written application to your employer and there is an obligation on the employer to give the request their serious consideration. The employer can refuse the request if there would be a detrimental effect on the ability within the business to meet customer demand, quality and performance and there would be additional costs to the business. There is a right of appeal in the event that your employer refuses such a request.

Although useful a request for flexible working does not mean that it will be automatically granted and your employer can reasonably refuse to agree to the request if they can demonstrate that they have given the application their serious consideration and its impact on the business.

Annual Leave

As a last resort you can fall back on annual leave for the purpose of taking paid time off to attend your child’s hospital appointments. If you are employed full-time then you are entitled to 5.6 weeks per year including public holidays. The downside is that your employer controls when and how much annual leave you can take at any particular time and can refuse if your absence interferes with the needs of the business, for example at a critical time when your attendance is required.

Unpaid Leave

Some employers may allow you to have additional unpaid leave to enable you to attend your child’s hospital visits and appointments. Some employers are more generous than others and may have better policies enabling you to buy additional annual leave. There are more radical employers who have policies with unlimited annual leave entitlements. However these schemes could be open to abuse and would need to be monitored to ensure fairness for all employees all around.

Flexi-time arrangements

Some employers especially in the public sector offer flexi-time whereby additional hours can be worked and built up. As time passes employees can build up additional hours as part of the flexi time scheme and additional time off can be taken off by building up such accrued hours.

What if you are self-employed?

You might be genuinely self employed running your own small business. Unfortunately, if you are not classed as an employee or a worker then you are not entitled to the statutory rights set out above. As your own boss you can of course take time off to attend your child’s hospital appointments without having to account to anyone and can perhaps schedule and rearrange your business commitments around these appointments. If you are working in the ‘gig economy’ it may be the position that there is uncertainty about your legal status as a worker or a self-employed individual and you would need to seek independent legal advice on your specific situation and circumstances.

Minimum standards

In summary,  if you are in the unfortunate position of having a sick child who will need to attend regular hospital appointments then the law provides minimum safeguards for you to take time off, but these are largely unpaid or are financially capped, and it is usually a question of affordability in terms of asserting those rights. One thing however is certain, in that it is unlawful for your employer to treat you less favourably because you wish to exercise or assert those statutory rights.

Some employers are also more approachable and more generous than others and if you explain your specific circumstances and needs it may be possible to come to some arrangement with your employer on a step-by-step basis to enable you to take time off without causing too much disruption to the employer’s business or your finances.

 

Steven Eckett is head of employment law at Meaby & Co





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