Advice by Alastair Brown, Chief Technological Officer at BrightHR
We all know getting a doctor or dentist appointment can be a struggle. A lot of the time when we do get an appointment it can be at an inconvenient time and during working hours.
So if the only times available are during contracted working hours can workers take time off to attend a medical appointment?
Generally, there is no statutory right to take paid or unpaid time off to attend routine medical or dental appointments. Whether an employee is allowed to do this is therefore down to you. For example, you may choose to include a contractual right to take time off in these circumstances, either paid or unpaid. This could specify that the employee will either be paid for the time away from work or will need to make the time upon their return. It is not unreasonable to expect that these appointments are made outside of work hours, or within times when their effect on a working day will be minimal.
This changes slightly when an employee is pregnant. In these situations, they have a specific right to reasonable, paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments provided these are made on the advice of a doctor, midwife or registered nurse. After the first appointment, you can request medical confirmation of the pregnancy, known as a Mat B1 form, alongside an appointment card providing the antenatal appointment if you wish. Remember that fathers and partners of the pregnant employee can also take unpaid time off for up to two antenatal appointments.
If an employee requires an urgent, or unforeseen medical or dental appointment, the time away from work is likely to be classed as sickness absence and should be processed as such. This means that either statutory or contractual sick pay will be due. You should also bear in mind that employees with a disability may need to attend medical appointments more frequently than their colleagues, and failure to allow this could potentially result in a claim for discrimination.
Occasionally, employees may attempt to use a medical appointment as a way of covering up another activity, such as interviewing for an alternative role. This would technically be a breach of trust that could amount to gross misconduct and, therefore, dismissal. If you discover that this has taken place, you should process it through your usual disciplinary procedure and conduct a full investigation into why the employee has lied about their activities.
As a part of this, the employee should be invited to outline their reasons behind the deceit. For example, they may feel that they wouldn’t have been granted the time off for the interview if they had requested it. If the employee is generally good at their job and you don’t want to lose them, it may be advisable to consider why they are looking elsewhere for employment and see if there are any changes that could improve their situation.