The law gives workers the right to a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with emergencies involving their dependants. This is sometimes referred to as compassionate leave. The law does not, however, give you the right to be paid for that time off.
But what exactly is time off for dependents and what exactly do the rules say about it? In this article we will discuss these questions as well as many more.
Who is considered a dependant?
According to the law your dependants include:
- Civil partners
Other relatives, friends or unrelated children who live in your home as family are also considered your dependants. This may include a grandparent or other relative who lives in the family home as well as unmarried or same-sex partners who live together.
It does not normally apply to someone in a commercial relationship with you, such as a live-in employee, lodger or tenant.
What if the person does not live with me?
You may still be able to request time off to look after others who do not live with you in some situations. If somebody ‘reasonably’ depends on your help in case of an emergency, they may also qualify as your dependants.
This may be, for example, an elderly or disabled neighbour whose usual care arrangements have fallen through, and you are the only person who can help.
What situations qualify for time off for dependents?
The law states that you can take time off for dependants to deal with an unplanned emergency. Examples of unplanned emergencies include:
- The illness or injury of a dependant.
- The death of a dependant.
- The failure of the usual carer to arrive for work leaving you as the only person who can help.
- An incident with your child at school that needs your immediate attention.
- When a dependant gives birth to a child.
As well as dealing with the emergency you can also request time off to make arrangements related to the emergency such as:
- Arranging and attending a dependant’s funeral.
- Arranging long-term care for an injured or ill dependant.
What situations do not qualify for time off for a dependent?
While your employer may allow time off for other types of emergencies, there are some situations that your employer does not have to give you time off for. These include:
- Dealing with emergencies involving your home. This can be for things like fire, flooding, burglary or a broken boiler within the property.
- Taking dependants to planned medical appointments.
- Dealing with the illness or injury of a pet.
- Personal crises, such as relationship problems or breakdown of friendships.
While employers do not have to allow time off for these situations, many will still allow employees to stay away from work to allow them time to deal with the issue.
What if I have just started a job?
You can request time off for dependants, even if you only recently started the job. The law does not differentiate between new workers and those that have been working with a company for a long time.
How do I notify my employer that I wish to take time off for a dependent?
Time off for dependants is usually in the event of an unexpected emergency so employees are not expected to provide advance notice. They do, however, have to tell their employer about the absence as soon as possible. They may also need to tell them how long they are expected to be away. This timeframe must be reasonable and within company guidelines. You can’t, for example, request two weeks off to deal with a school issue for your child.
If an employee needs to leave work to deal with an emergency, they must make a reasonable effort to inform their employer before leaving.
How much time can you take off to deal with emergencies involving your dependants?
The law states that the amount of time granted to an employee must be ‘reasonable’. Employers should have a written policy regarding leave or details may be specified in employment contracts.
The term reasonable is deliberately vague and open to interpretation. If an employee thinks that their employer has unreasonably refused to permit them time off to deal with a dependent’s emergency, they have the right to make a complaint to an employment tribunal, which must be done within three months minus one day of the incident.
How often can you take time off for dependants?
There is no limit to the number of times you can take time off for dependants. Your employer, however, may take into account previous periods of time off for dependants when considering whether or not your most recent request is reasonable.
Whether or not the amount of time that you took off was reasonable will also be relevant if you claim to have suffered from detrimental treatment/dismissal as a result of taking or requesting time off for dependants.
Is time taken off for dependants paid or unpaid?
There is no law requiring employers to pay an employee for the time they take off to deal with emergencies. Many employers do, however, pay a certain number of days off for dependants per year. This is entirely at their discretion.
What can employers do to deal with employees who might require time off for dependents?
Here are a few practical steps that a business can take to deal with employees who might need time off to deal with dependents:
- Implement a clearly worded policy setting out the circumstances in which employees can take time off to care for their dependants and any evidence the business may require.
- Set out the notification procedures that employees must follow in the policy.
- Stipulate the penalties for abusing the right and for failing to follow the notification procedures in the policy.
- Explicitly state in your disciplinary procedure that abuse or breach of the policy will result in disciplinary proceedings being instigated.
- Publicise the policy so that employees cannot claim they were unaware of their obligations.
- Signpost other rights that employees may have which may be more appropriate (for example, parental leave).
Household emergencies happen and requiring time off to look after our loved ones is sometimes a necessity.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to time off for dependents. For more useful workplace information, check out the rest of our website.
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