The right for women to take time off work for antenatal appointments has been around for decades.  In all that time, so far as I can tell, no one has felt it necessary to issue any clarification on how that right is exercised.  From 1st October this year, however, fathers and other partners gain limited rights to go to antenatal appointments too, and the Department for Business Innovation & Skills has leapt into the breach with four well-spaced pages of Q&A Guidance for employers   

Perhaps this is a genuine attempt to clarify real questions, or maybe it is just a cosmetic parasol against the Niagara of incomprehension and frustration which will accompany most employers’ first attempts to get to grips with the new shared parenting regime when it arrives in earnest in April next year.  Either way, it is sadly not terribly good.   

First, it poses questions which surely no one ever asked, such as the rights of a man who is simultaneously expecting with two different women.  What is his position?  Well, tenuous, obviously, especially if they have yet to learn of each other.  Oh, and he does have the right to accompany each woman to the standard two antenatal appointments of up to 6.5 hours each. Separately, who gets the right to go to the antenatal session with the woman if the husband and the father are different people?  Disconcertingly, both do, though as the Guidance says primly, “Where such circumstances arise the woman is unlikely to want both to accompany her”.  You think?   

Second, it is confused.  The partner’s employer cannot insist on seeing a copy of the appointment letter, since that belongs to the expectant mother.  This leaves unaddressed the question of why she would refuse to provide a copy to someone she intends to accompany her to the appointment.  Instead, the employer can require a written declaration from the partner stating his or her relationship to the mother and that the purpose of the time off is to attend the antenatal appointment with her (page 3).  Page 4 also refers repeatedly to the partner attending the appointment, but then page 5 asks possibly the most facile question of any statutory guidance I can recall – “Does this mean a father has a right to attend ante-natal appointments?” – and answers it no.  This is a right to accompany the woman carrying the child to the appointment, it continues, but not actually to attend it.  This is clearly inconsistent with the numerous earlier references to the employee being in attendance and indeed to his having to make a written declaration to that express effect (though this is itself contradicted earlier on page 5).  

Unfortunately we are left not much the wiser for this Guidance.  Bearing in mind that it is primarily written for businesses without dedicated HR teams or external legal support, we could legitimately have hoped for something which is at least internally consistent from one page to the next, and which answers questions that employers may actually have – what if the timing of the appointment means that the employee’s absence at that point will unduly harm my business?  Most pregnant women attend about ten antenatal appointments – can I decide which two the partner will go to?  Given that the time allowed per appointment is up to 6.5 hours, am I allowed to treat that as a whole day unpaid if the employee’s attendance for the residue of his working day is of no value to me?  If the employee’s absence causes him to miss out on, say, a lucrative sales opportunity, is that an actionable detriment?