Eight Legal Employment Law and HR Consultants

Maternity and Childcare Dilemmas

Questions, questions!

Sometimes it’s the little, ‘simple’ questions that can trip employers up, especially around maternity and childcare issues.

Do you know how to handle these situations?

  • Sally wants time off to attend ante-natal relaxation classes
  • Dave wants to join his partner for a scan appointment
  • Jenny has gone into labour and had her baby two weeks before her maternity leave was supposed to start
  • Simon has called in to say he can’t come to work because his daughter is too ill to go nursery today
  • Sarah has had a difficult pregnancy, with lots of time off sick

Ante-Natal Appointments

Sally – pregnant women are entitled to reasonable, paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments. This includes things like relaxation classes and parentcraft classes that have been recommended by her doctor or midwife.

Dave – as the father, or the partner of a pregnant woman, Dave is entitled to time off to attend up to two ante-natal appointments, though he is not entitled to be paid for this time (unless his contract/ handbook says differently). The maximum time off allowed is 6.5 hours per appointment.

Early Birth

Jenny – if a woman has her baby before her maternity leave was due to start, leave starts automatically on the day after the birth. Strangely, there is no official guidance about how to treat the day of the birth. If the mother would have been at work on that day, it’s probably safest for you to err on  the side of generosity, treat it as an ante-natal appointment, and pay her as normal.

Domestic Emergencies

Simon – employees are entitled to ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with an urgent situation involving  a ‘dependent’. A dependent might be a spouse or partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone else who depends on the employee for care. You don’t have to pay them for this time, unless the contract or handbook says differently. You can allow them to take it as paid annual leave if they request it, and you’re happy to.

As ever in Employment Law, there’s no fixed definition of ‘reasonable’. For example,  it would be reasonable to take a day or two to care for a sick child, and to organise something longer-term if needed. It is not designed to allow someone to take two weeks off to care for a sick child, or to take a dependent to a pre-arranged appointment. If an employee needs more time, consider whether they could use some annual leave or take parental leave if they’re eligible.

While it’s sensible for you to keep a record of the time taken, you should keep it separate from sickness absence records.

Sickness Absence During Pregnancy

Sarah – a pregnant woman who has time off sick should be treated exactly the same as other employees in terms of entitlement to both statutory sick pay (SSP) and company sick pay. Remember that periods of absence can become ‘linked’ for SSP purposes, so she may not have to have the usual ‘waiting days’ before SSP starts. You should record any pregnancy-related illness absence  separately from other sickness absence. You must not include it when calculating ‘trigger points’ for any action relating to absence.

If she is off sick with a pregnancy-related illness in the last four weeks leading up to the start of the week (the Sunday) that the baby is due, then her maternity leave will start immediately.

Please note – this information is provided for guidance only, and is not a substitute for specific legal advice in any given situation.

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