· Features

Legal-ease: Time off for dependants

Employees, from the first day of their employment, have a statutory right to take reasonable unpaid time off to deal with certain unexpected emergencies concerning a dependant

A ‘dependant’ generally means a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or a person living in the employee’s household as part of the family. In certain circumstances a broader definition may be appropriate.

There is no limit to the amount of time that is ‘reasonable’, although generally it is likely to be limited to one or two days, mainly because it is to deal with the immediate emergency and put alternative arrangements in place for the medium term.

The following situations would attract the right to emergency time off:

  • Providing assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted
  • To make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injure
  • Dealing with the consequences of the death of a dependant
  • Dealing with the consequences of a child being involved in an unexpected incident at school or during school hours
  • Where childcare or other arrangements for the care of a dependant unexpectedly break down.

Situations that would not be covered include other emergencies such as a flood, the health of someone who is not a dependant, or the health of a pet. The right also does not cover non-emergencies such as a planned medical appointment or operation or childcare during school holidays.

However, if an employer does refuse to let an employee take further emergency time off in a case where the employee was seeking an unreasonable amount of time off, the employee will not have a claim against the employer.

An employee may complain to a tribunal where their employer hasn’t permitted them to take time off as required above. Staff also have the right not to be subjected to any detrimental treatment for reasons relating to time off for dependants. Any dismissal on these grounds is automatically unfair regardless of the length of the person’s employment.

If an employee succeeds in a claim that their employer has unreasonably refused them time off, or that they have been subjected to a detriment relating to time off for dependants, a tribunal will make a declaration to that effect and may award compensation it considers just and equitable.

Arwen Makin is a senior solicitor at ESP Law, provider of the HR Legal Service