Q. My daughter works full-time and has to take a day off work for a hospital appointment. Her employer says it must be taken as a holiday. Is this correct?
(Ms Annabel MacDonald, 16 September 2021)
A. The short answer to this question is, unfortunately, yes. Employers are not required by law to allow workers to attend medical appointments in work time.
However, there are a few exceptions which I’ll discuss below, along with an overview of UK employment law around attending hospital appointments in work time. I’ve also got some tips on how to navigate this situation with your employer.
Time Off Work for Medical Appointments
Unfortunately, there’s also no statutory entitlement for workers to get time off work to attend medical appointments during 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.
Time off During Pregnancy
The main exception to this 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 which are advised by a doctor, midwife, or nurse. Eligible types of medical appointment would include scans, antenatal classes, and pregnancy health checks.
The amount of time off which is considered reasonable is the time it takes to travel to and from the appointment, plus the appointment itself.
Our guide to rights when pregnant at work has more detailed information.
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Using Holiday Allowance for Doctors Appointments
An employer is within their rights to take the time for attending medical appointments out of an employee’s holiday allowance.
An employer may also require you to take particular days as part of your holiday allowance. However, they can only do this with at least 2 days notice.
Many workplaces will have policies to deal with such requests. In the first instance, have a look at your contract of employment or handbook and see if a policy is mentioned.
Many employers want to look after the welfare of their employees, so you may find they have a sickness policy that allows a certain amount of paid time off for hospital appointments.
Can a Hospital 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, check your employee handbook to see if using sick leave for your appointment is allowed under your workplace’s own policies.
Time Off Work For Appointments Relating to Disability
Things are also less clear cut if the appointments are connected with a condition that might be a disability.
In that case, an employer must make reasonable allowances for the disability. This includes allowing time off for medical appointments is considered to be a ‘reasonable allowance’.
If you are unsure about whether or not you fall under the definition of a disabled person in the terms of the Equality Act, then you can seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Can an Employer Ask For Proof of Hospital Appointment?
An employer can ask for some kind of proof that you have to attend a hospital appointment you’ve asked for time off to attend.
However, it would be reasonable for you to provide this with private medical information redacted if you do not wish to disclose the nature of your health issue.
Can an Employer Refuse Time Off For Surgery?
An employer is not legally obligated to give time off for surgery. Hopefully most reasonable employers would allow time off for an operation, particularly if the employees long term health was likely to suffer.
If your employer is being uncooperative about allowing time off for surgery, it’s worth contacting ACAS for advice. If the operation is important, it may also be worth having a conversation with your GP. They may be prepared to issue a fit note saying you are unable to work.
Look for Compromise
Most employers will want to come to some sort of arrangement to make it easier on the employee and better for the organisation.
After all, having to co-operate with a member of staff is cheaper and easier in the long run than having to hire someone else to replace them.
There are a number of solutions and it is worth approaching your supervisor or manager to discuss. In an office environment it might be possible to work an extra hour or two during the week that a medical appointment is due, so that the time is given back in a form of unofficial flexi-time.
FAQ’s on Getting Time Off for Hopsital Appointments
Lots of people have questions about their rights to time off work to attend doctors and medical appointments. Our list of FAQ’s is here to help!
Unfortunately, your employer does not have to pay you to attend doctor or hospital appointments. Some will ask you to make the time up, or use paid holidays, or take the time as unpaid leave. There are some exceptions to this in the case of pregnancy or disability.
There is no statutory right for employees to attend medical appointments during working hours. The exception to this would be during pregnancy or in the case of some disabled workers. That means in many cases an employer can deny time off for appointments.
A hospital appointment is not classed as a sick day. That means your employer may require you to take it as unpaid leave, or take it from holiday allowance. However, your place of work may have a policy about attending hospital and other medical appointments. Check your employee handbook and see what it says.
Compassionate leave – see our guide on entitlement to compassionate leave in emergency situations.
Time off work for the dentist – if you need a routine dental appointment, what are your rights?