30th May 2017
We all know that it can be hard to find time to visit the GP or the dentist.
How many times have you heard something like “We’ve got a Monday morning appointment available. 9 o’clock? Two weeks from now.”
So, if the only available appointments are during scheduled working hours, does your employer have to give you time off? What are the rules and where does the line get drawn?
Are employees entitled to time off?
It might surprise you to know that no employee is automatically entitled to time off for any routine appointment. They’re not even given an automatic right to take their time off unpaid.
An emergency situation is different, as a dental or medical emergency will usually be described as a sickness absence, with associated rights and payments.
What about an employee’s contract?
Different companies will have different rules about time off for routine appointments.
Some businesses will state outright that routine time off isn’t allowed. Bear in mind that if you’re an employer going down this route, you’re taking a very hard stance and might be opening yourself up to excuses from your more difficult employees, but will not actually be breaking any laws.
Most employers offer a more flexible approach. They might allow their employees to take the time off unpaid, or to work the hours back either in one go or spread over a longer period of time. Alternatively, the employee might be offered the option to work the time back at home, or could be required to take the time from their holiday allowance.
Look into employment contracts for details about time off for routine appointments, how (or if) that time off should be worked back, and how much time is allowed for each GP or dentist visit.
What should an employee do when booking their appointments?
As far as it’s possible, employees should attempt to schedule their appointments for times when they’re not working. This minimises disruption in the workplace.
Employers need to be aware that this isn’t always possible. Many GP surgeries offer appointments from 9am-5pm, with little scope for an ‘out of hours’ service.
Are there any notable circumstances?
Pregnant women have extra rights that will need to be taken into account. During their pregnancy, they have a right to paid time off for any antenatal appointments.
Some pregnant women will only need time off for scheduled appointments with their midwife. Others may need more regular appointments, including extra scans and checkups. All of these are covered, along with time off for any classes under the advice of a doctor, nurse or midwife.
Dad doesn’t want to miss the scan, either! Men with pregnant partners are entitled to time off, unpaid, for up to two antenatal appointments.
If the employer has any doubts about a pregnancy (or the appointment), then they do have a right to request proof. A Mat B1 form can be provided as proof of the pregnancy, whilst an appointment card might be required to validate the request for time off. This applies for all appointments after the first, whilst the first must be allowed automatically.
What if an employee has a disability?
Employees with disabilities may need time off for medical appointments as a result of their condition. Employers should give this time as requested, and otherwise might be discriminating and at risk of legal action.
What happens if time off isn’t being allowed?
For any number of reasons, an employer might not accept a request for routine time off. If nothing else, this can cause friction between employee and employer.
If there are difficulties with requests being accommodated, the best course of action begins with an informal meeting. Employees should be able to ask why their request was refused, and to find out if there are any ways that the decision could be turned around. For example, could the employee work unpaid overtime to make up for the hours that they missed?
There will be situations where an employer refuses to accommodate the request and where the employee can take no further action. But it’s far better for everyone if a solution can be found!
If an employee has been refused time off for a dentist or GP appointment, it is always worth taking the time to check contracts and company policies. Most will have something written about when absences are allowed, and under what circumstances they are likely to be turned down.
What happens if the appointment is for somebody else?
Many employees have dependents. These are usually children, but may include elderly or disabled relatives.
Employers do not have to allow their employees to take time off for someone else’s appointment, except in an emergency situation.
If a dependent falls ill, the employee is entitled to reasonable time off whilst they find a suitable solution. This might include a GP visit, but will not include extended time off. Employees can be given time to find alternative care, so that they can return to work as quickly as reasonably possible.
Any time off for emergencies involving dependents does not need to be paid. Many employers choose to continue to pay for this time, whilst perhaps setting limits on the number of hours or occurrences each year.
An employer doesn’t automatically have to allow time off for routine appointments, dental appointments or visits to the doctor.
Most will allow time off, but will ask the employee to work the time back or to take it as unpaid leave. In some cases, employees are asked to take the time from their holiday allowance.
The waters become muddy in situations where the employee is pregnant or has a disability. Appointments directly relating to the disability should be allowed, as should appointments for pregnant women as advised by medical professionals.
If employees are in any doubt about what they’re entitled to, then they should find the details in their contract or within a company handbook.
Employers are entitled to request proof, usually in the form of an appointment card or letter, if they have any doubts about the reason for time off.