Emergency Leave

What constitutes emergency leave? What is the statutory right of leave for employee & employers? Be on the right of the UK law with our guide here.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: November 29, 2022
  • 5 Minutes
emergency leave and its statutory laws in UK workplaces explained by Papershift

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An emergency can occur at any time and disrupt an employee’s (and their employer’s) carefully planned schedules and routines. Whatever the nature of the emergency and no matter how urgently the employee needs to attend to it, it is critical that processes are followed to ensure the issue is dealt with and the business is not too adversely affected.

In this guide, we’ll explain what emergency leave is, the reasons for it, and the rights that protect employees.

Let’s begin.

What is considered emergency leave?

Emergency leave is when an employee needs to take time off suddenly and unexpectedly because a situation has arisen that they must deal with. Emergency leave is often confused with compassionate leave but the reasons for taking the leave are generally more urgent than compassionate leave.

What are the reasons for taking emergency leave?

There are many reasons why an employee might need personal emergency leave. These might include:

  1. To make funeral arrangements due to a death in the family.
  2. Arrange care for a sick family member or dependent. The illnesses can be physical or mental health condition and it doesn’t have to be life-threatening.
  3. Provide care for a dependent family member.
  4. Be with a partner who’s giving birth.
  5. Register the birth of a child.
  6. Deal with a household problem, like a plumbing or electrical issue.

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What does the law say about emergency leave?

Employees are allowed under UK law a reasonable amount of time off to deal with emergencies relating to their dependants.

Reasonable Emergency Time Off
The law doesn’t state exactly how much time off is considered reasonable and businesses often interpret this how they see fit.

To find out how much time off an employer allows, we would suggest checking out their staff handbook or HR policies.

A dependant can be any one of the following:

  • A partner.
  • A spouse.
  • A child.
  • A grandparent.
  • Someone who depends on an employee for care.

If the emergency leave is not for dealing with a dependent, the employee may find that they have no statutory right to time off. Most employers, however, will allow staff to take time off in other types of emergency. Again, it’s best to check out the company’s staff handbook or HR policies for full details. 

Free Tools From Papershift
Here is a guide to ‘Holiday entitlement in the UK‘, also, check our free ‘Online holiday entitlement calculator‘ to ascertain your annual leave rights.

How long can an employee take off for emergency leave?

That’s not an easy question to answer as UK law only states that emergency leave should be reasonable. Usually, the nature of the emergency will dictate how many days are taken off. In some situations, a few hours might be enough, but in others a few days might be required. 

If you own a business, it will be up to you as the employer to dictate the amount of time you will allow off, but we would suggest that you take time to understand the employee’s issue before making any decisions. It’s also important to set out rules in a staff handbook or HR policy and apply them fairly to all staff to avoid claims of discrimination.

It’s also important to note that UK employment legislation doesn’t set any limits on how many times an employee can take emergency time off for family and dependants within a year. 

Will an employee be paid while on emergency leave?

Employers can choose to pay employees who take time off to care for their dependants (or for any other emergency situation), but the law does not force them to. Again, the employer should set out whether emergency leave is paid or not in their polices. 

If you are an employee and are unsure if you will be paid when you take emergency leave, check out your employment contract, the company handbook, or any applicable intranet site. 

Try Staff Leave Planner Online.

How can employees apply for emergency leave?

If an employee is unable to work because of an emergency situation, they must contact their employee as soon as possible and explain how much time they think they need to deal with the issue. 

It’s important to note, if you are an employer, that in some situations where an employee has a sudden emergency issue to deal with, they may not have the ability to contact you. It’s often better in these situations to be sensitive to the issue and not go in two-footed with any demands for explanations.

As an employer, how do I manage requests for emergency leave?

Whether an employee needs leave to deal with a household emergency or time off to care for a dependent, the situations can often be incredibly difficult to manage. As an employer, you need to be sensitive to your employee’s issue and let them explain why they need time off without making judgements or assumptions. 

Once the request is made, assess the needs of the employer against your legal requirements as well as any business policies. It’s important to treat staff fairly when they are absent, or you could face a claim for discrimination. If an employee feels that they have been mistreated or even dismissed because they have taken emergency leave, they could take the business to a tribunal and may even claim that they have been constructively dismissed.

Our tip for dealing with emergency leave requests is to make sure you have the right tools available. A good scheduling software, like the one we provide at Papershift, can make dealing with sudden absences and the rota amendments easier to manage. With the addition of some of the modules within our Marketplace, you can add extra functionality that can allow you to manage HR-related documents and even track absences, making our software package a one-stop solution for many staff management problems.

In conclusion

Emergencies happen from time to time and it’s important for businesses to be sensitive to their employee’s needs when they do, while also looking out for the company’s best interests.

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We hope you have enjoyed this guide. For more useful workplace information, check out the rest of our website.

Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)