Cosmetic surgery – what rights do employees have?

It’s not just celebrities who are going under the knife.

According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, 51,000 Britons chose to have cosmetic surgery in 2015. Whether it’s a breast augmentation, liposuction, face lift, tummy tuck or a nose job, there are a range of procedures that are becoming more and more accessible to the general public.

Regardless of your individual views of it, it does raise interesting HR and legal questions for employers.

Are employees allowed time off work?

Depending on the type of cosmetic surgery they undertake, they may need time off to attend appointments in run up to surgery and then time off to undergo the procedure and recover.

Employees do not have a statutory right to time off to attend medical appointments. The only exception to this rule is pregnant employees, who have the right to take time off to attend appointments made on the advice of a doctor, midwife or nurse for the purpose of antenatal care. An expectant father is also entitled to take time off work to accompany a pregnant woman to up to two antenatal appointments.

This means that whether an employer decides to allow an employee time off to attend an appointment regarding cosmetic surgery will be subject to the terms and conditions in their Contract of Employment, or the employer’s discretion.

If an employee does ask you for time off to attend an appointment for cosmetic surgery, you may ask employees to try and get appointments outside of working hours or at the very start or end of the day to minimise disruption levels. You may decide to set certain limits on how long they can take off for each appointment or ask them to make up the time lost another day.

If the employee is fit to work, but they have asked for time off to recover from surgery, you may ask them to use annual leave or unpaid leave. You may also ask for a combination of annual and unpaid leave. What is reasonable will very much depend on the individual circumstances of the case. Remember that the reasons behind the surgery may not be just about appearance, but as a result of a suggestion put forward by a medical practitioner. This may be the case if the employee is having reconstructive surgery after a car accident, a breast reduction to alleviate back problems or some type of surgery to help with depression.

Entitlement to sick pay

When an employee is unfit to work, they may be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). If the employee meets the eligible requirements and has provided appropriate certification, SSP will be paid by the employer from the 4th day of absence for up to 28 weeks. For the purposes of SSP, it doesn’t matter whether the absences were as a result of sickness, an injury or cosmetic surgery.

In addition to SSP, many employers will also their own sick pay scheme. The payment of contractual sick pay will be dependent on the employee keeping their employer informed of their absence and complying with the other requirements of the policy.

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to remain fair and consistent in your approach to avoid claims of discrimination. Make sure you keep a record of the decisions made.

Harassment

If someone is having cosmetic surgery, it could lead to people gossiping or having a joke and laugh about it.

Remember the line between banter and harassment can be thin and leave you exposed to claims of harassment. Anything that an employee does during the course of their employment will be deemed as having been also done by the employer, irrespective of whether the employer knew or approved the action or comment constituting harassment. You, as an employer, must be able to prove that you have taken all reasonable steps to prevent employees from committing harassment in the workplace.

Disability

If something goes wrong with the surgery and they end up with a disability under the Equality Act, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Need help?

As you can see, it is a highly complex issue. To obtain specific, tailored advice, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can provide you with all the guidance you need to manage the HR and Employment issues that arise in your workplace.