It’s not uncommon for employees within any workplace to request time off so they can attend medical appointments. These appointments could be for hospital visits, dental appointments or even to visit an optician.
Most staff will look to schedule these appointments outside their normal working hours, but this isn’t always possible, especially if the appointment is at a clinic that operates 9 to 5.
In this article, we will take a detailed look at how businesses can manage requests for medical appointments. We will also discuss whether employees are entitled to time off in these situations and what rules and regulations govern them.
Can an employer refuse time off for medical appointments?
Employees have no statutory entitlement for time off work to attend medical appointments if they fall during their normal work hours. This is true of hospital appointments, doctors’ appointments and even trips to the dentist. Some employers might take a more reasonable approach to this, but it is at their discretion.
Are there any exceptions to this rule?
There is one type of medical appointment that is covered by an employee’s statutory rights and as such, employers are obliged to allow time off for it.
a. Time off during pregnancy
The exception to the rule of whether an employee is entitled to time off for medical appointments is for pregnant women. During pregnancy, expectant mothers have the right to reasonable paid time off for antenatal care.
The entitlement to paid time off is for appointments that employees are advised to attend by a doctor, midwife, or nurse. Eligible types of medical appointments would include:
- Antenatal classes
- Pregnancy health checks
That doesn’t necessarily mean that staff have the right to an entire day off for these appointments and businesses only have to allow a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. The law generally considers the time it takes to travel to and from the appointment, plus the appointment itself as reasonable.
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Can an employee use holiday allowance for doctor’s appointments?
Of course, they can. Employees can generally use their holiday allowance for any purpose, so long as taking the time off doesn’t negatively impact on the business.
Can an employer force an employer to use their holiday allowance for medical appointments?
Yes, they can. An employer is perfectly within their rights to take the time required to attend a medical appointment out of an employee’s holiday allowance.
Many workplaces will have policies to deal with requests for medical appointment with many employers striving to look after the welfare of their employees. Because of this you may find that some companies have a sickness policy that allows a certain amount of paid time off for specific medical appointments.
Can a medical appointment be taken as sick leave?
Taking a hospital appointment as part of sick leave allocation would not be a statutory right under UK employment law. However, we would advise employees to check their employee handbook to see if using sick leave for an appointment is allowed under their workplace’s policies before doing so.
Obviously, if the employer is already away from work on sick leave and the appointment is regarding the illness, they would be perfectly within their rights to attend the medical appointment as part of their treatment.
What about time off work for appointments relating to a disability?
Things are less clear-cut if a medical appointment is related to a condition that might be considered a disability. In this case, an employer must make reasonable allowances for the disability as set out in the Equality Act. This includes allowing time off for medical appointments if necessary.
Can an employer ask for proof of attending a medical appointment?
An employer can ask for proof that an employee has attended a hospital appointment if they have granted time off for this purpose.
It would be perfectly reasonable, however, for an employee to provide this proof with private medical information omitted or redacted if they do not wish to disclose the nature of the health issue or any other personal information.
Can an employer refuse time off for surgery?
An employer is not legally obligated to give time off for surgery. Most reasonable employers, however, would allow time off for an operation, particularly if the employees’ long-term health was at stake.
Obviously, employees who have been refused time off for surgery could seek to attain a fit note that would permit them to be absent from work for this purpose.
Do employees have to make time up for attending a medical appointment?
That depends. An employer does not have to pay an employee when they attend a medical or hospital appointment, which means there will be no time to make up. Some may pay the employee and then ask them to make the time up.
Either way, it’s important that businesses detail how medical appointments are to be managed in their policies and then fairly administer them to avoid complaints of discrimination as set out In UK law.
Every worker will need to visit a medical professional at some point in their life and, when they do, knowing that their job won’t be affected, and they will be paid may help them deal with the stress of the situation.
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But businesses also need to balance the books and ensure that productivity isn’t affected by absent staff. Finding the right balance as an employer is vital and ensuring this is detailed in a thorough absence policy is a necessity to avoid complaints of discrimination.
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