Expert advice

I need a doctor’s appointment: does my employer have to give me time off?

Find out when you have the right to time off during working hours – and when you don’t

Your rights may be limited but reasonable employers will be prepared to take a flexible approach

There are specific legal provisions for pregnant women and their partners Picture: iStock

There is no legal obligation on your employer to provide you with paid time off work to attend personal medical appointments, such as with the optician, dentist or GP. Neither is your employer legally required to provide you with unpaid time off to attend these appointments.

The only exceptions are if you have a disability or are pregnant.

Reasonable adjustment for disability and rights when pregnant

If you have a disability and the medical appointment is related to this disability, your employer may see it as a reasonable adjustment to allow you time off for the appointment. A reasonable adjustment has to be agreed with your employer – it is not a legal entitlement unless it is agreed beforehand.

Once agreed, your employer has a duty to honour the adjustment. If an employer won't allow a particular adjustment, this can be reviewed.

Pregnant women have a legal right to attend personal medical appointments in relation to their pregnancy, including antenatal classes. They are entitled to reasonable, paid time off work, while their partner is entitled to unpaid time off for up to two antenatal appointments.

It is common to only be offered
dental appointments on weekdays
Picture: iStock

Medical or dental appointments

For other personal medical appointments, your employer is legally entitled to require that you attend these in your own time, outside of your normal working hours or on a day off. But getting a personal medical appointment at a time convenient for both you and your employer can be extremely difficult, and can result in long delays before you are able to actually attend the appointment.

To overcome this, your employer can allow you to take the time you need during your working hours, with a requirement to either make up the time you have missed or book the time as annual leave.

Although your employer is not legally obliged to provide you with time off to attend a medical appointment – whether paid or unpaid – this does not necessarily mean they will not, with many employers adopting a reasonable attitude to dealing with requests for time off to attend personal medical appointments.

Where it is not possible to attend an appointment outside of your working day, some employers may allow you to attend during your normal working hours. Others may allow you to attend a maximum number of personal medical appointments in a year or a stated period, such as over six months.

Check your contract of employment

Whether any such arrangement entitles you to paid or unpaid time depends on the terms and conditions in your contract of employment. This sets out the rights your employer has agreed to offer you, and is the best place to find out your entitlement to attend medical appointments.

If the medical appointment is an emergency, it is unlikely to be covered by any of these arrangements. This would be seen as a period of sickness, so would covered by your employer’s sickness absence policy instead.

Marc Cornock is a qualified nurse, academic lawyer and senior lecturer at the Open University