Employers are often left scratching their heads trying to understand the provisions related to time off for dependants – how much time off are employees entitled to, under what circumstances does it have to be provided and whether they have to pay for this time off.

Let us clear up the confusion now!

Is time off for dependants a statutory right?

Yes. Under the Employment Rights Act, all employees are entitled to take time off for dependants. This right does not extend to self-employed or workers.

Employees have this right irrespective of their length of service with the employer – the right applies from the first day of employment.

Who are dependants?

A dependant could be a:

  • spouse or civil partner
  • child
  • parent
  • person who lives in the same household of the employee, however this does not apply to tenants or lodgers
  • a person, such as an elderly neighbour, who reasonably relies on the employee to provide assistance if they are sick or need help making care arrangements for themself.

What are the valid reasons for which this time off should be granted?

The right to time off is to deal with emergencies and unforeseen matters involving a dependant.

The law states that an employee has the right to be allowed time off by their employer during the employee’s working hours:

  • to help if a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted
  • to make care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured
  • as a result of a death of a dependant
  • to cope with unexpected disruptions, termination or breakdown in care arrangements for the dependant
  • to manage an unexpected incident which involves the employee’s child during school time.

Employees are not permitted to take time off for dependants to attend an event that they already knew about. For example, if an employee’s child has an appointment at the doctors that has been booked for months, this is not an emergency or unforeseen event and as such, they are not entitled to time off for dependants.

What notice do they have to give?

Due to the fact that this time off is to deal with emergencies and immediate crises, employees do not need to provide notice in writing. Nevertheless, the employee must inform you – as soon as they can – of the reason for the time off. They must also notify you for how long they expect to be away from the workplace.

Do I need to pay for this time off?

Employees have no legal right to be paid.

Some employers do, however, offer a contractual right to pay for this time off.

How long are they entitled to?

Employees are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of time off. This could be a few hours or one or two days. It will all depend on the individual circumstances.

When considering what is a reasonable amount of time off work, employers cannot take into account the disruption the employee’s absence will cause on the business. They must look at the nature of the emergency and what the employee’s circumstances are.

If, for example, an employee is seeking time off in consequence of a death, they should be granted a reasonable amount of time to arrange and attend the funeral, but the right does not extend to a right to compassionate or bereavement leave.

How many times can an employee take this type of time off?

The law does not specify a limit to the number of times an employee can take time off for dependants.

In cases where an employee has used this right to time off for dependants in the past, the employer can consider the number and duration of previous absences to ascertain whether the request is reasonable.

If the employee is dismissed because of taking time off, what possible claims can they present to an Employment Tribunal?

An employee may bring a complaint to an Employment Tribunal in the following circumstances:

  • If an employer has unreasonably denied permission for an employee to take time off for dependants
  • If an employee suffers some form of detriment by their employer because they have taken, or wish to take, time off for dependants
  • If the reason for an employee’s dismissal was linked to the employee taking or seeking to take time off for dependants.

Avoid landing in an Employment Tribunal! Contact your Employment Law Adviser today for advice.

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Call us on 0345 226 8393.

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