Law guide: Workplace

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Antenatal rights

Antenatal rights

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All pregnant employees have rights which cover the period after birth, known as 'antenatal rights'. Antenatal rights include the right to paid time off to attend antenatal care appointments. Antenatal care covers not only medical examinations but also, for example, relaxation classes and parent craft classes.

However, the right to time off only applies if the appointment is advised by a midwife, health visitor or registered medical practitioner.

Employees and agency workers who have a 'qualifying relationship' will have a right to unpaid time off during their working hours to accompany a pregnant woman to an antenatal appointment.

Pregnant employees' rights

Evidence of appointment

An employer is entitled to ask for evidence of antenatal appointments - except in the case of the very first appointment.

If your employer requests it, you must show the following:

  • Written documentation from a registered medical practitioner, a midwife or a health visitor confirming that you are pregnant
  • An appointment card or some other document showing that an appointment has been made for you

You are entitled to be paid your normal hourly rate during the period of time off for antenatal care.

Protection from dismissal/discrimination

If your employer:

  • dismisses you or treats you unfairly because you have tried to exercise your right to time off for antenatal care;
  • unreasonably refuses you time off for antenatal care; or
  • refuses to pay you your normal rate of pay during such time off

then you may bring a claim for unlawful discrimination and/or unfair dismissal to a tribunal.

For more information, see our 'Unfair dismissal' section.

The right to be accompanied to antenatal appointments

A qualifying employee or agency worker has a right to unpaid time off work to accompany a pregnant women on 2 occasions to her antenatal appointment. The time off is limited to 6.5 hours for each attended appointment.

The right is available immediately to all employees who have a 'qualifying relationship' but agency workers have to fulfil pre-qualifying criteria.

Eligibility of agency workers

Before having the same rights as employees, agency workers must have completed a 12-week qualifying period (required by the Agency Workers Regulations 2010). They must also not have taken on a different role with the hirer or had a break between assignments during that time.

What is the 'qualifying relationship'?

Employees or agency workers have a qualifying relationship if any of the following apply:

  • They are the expectant mother's husband or civil partner.
  • They live with an expectant mother in an enduring family relationship and are not her relative.
  • They are the expected child's father.
  • They are in a same-sex relationship and will be treated as the child's other parent under the assisted reproduction provisions in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 (HFEA).
  • They intend to apply for a parental order under the HFEA 2008 for a child who is expected to be born to a surrogate mother. Both they and the other applicant must be a married couple, a couple in a civil partnership, or 2 people living in an enduring family relationship who are not related to each other. If a parental order has been granted, the child will be treated in law as the applicants' child.

Making the request

If an employer, or for an agency worker their employment agency or hirer, requests to be notified before taking time-off to attend an appointment, the employee or agency worker must declare the following in writing (an email is fine):

  • That they have a qualifying relationship with the mother or expected child.
  • That the purpose of taking the time off is to attend an antenatal appointment.
  • That the appointment has been made on the advice of a registered doctor, registered midwife or registered nurse.
  • The date and time of the appointment.

If the request is refused

An employer or employment agency/hirer could refuse a request for time off where it is reasonable to do so. However there is no legal guidance on when it would be reasonable to do this. You have a right to start a tribunal claim if your right has been unreasonably refused.

A tribunal claim must normally be made within 3 months from the date of the refused appointment. If successful, damages will be awarded for the time you would have been absent for whilst attending the appointment, calculated at twice your hourly rate.

Employees will be able to claim automatic unfair dismissal where the primary reason for their dismissal is that they took time off to accompany the mother to an antenatal appointment. In addition, employees and agency workers are protected from being subjected to a detriment for taking time off to accompany the mother to an antenatal appointment.