Employment law in the United Kingdom entitles employees to take a “reasonable” amount of time off work, to care of their dependents when they face an unexpected or sudden event, detrimental to their health.
Furthermore, the law also allows the employees to make all longer-term and “necessary” arrangements to take care of their dependents. According to sources, about 37 percent of the total workforce in the UK in the year 2015 had children as dependents, which triggered a number of personal and professional challenges for them.
As a result, multiple legislature changes such as the section 57A Employment Rights Act 1996 came into existence (it gives the right to take a reasonable amount of time off during work hours to take care of dependants.)
Time off for dependents
Working professionals are entitled to unpaid time off work so that they can deal with certain situations that are affecting their dependents.
Such situations may include picking up your child who falls ill while in school, take your spouse to the hospital, or make funeral arrangements on the death of a family member.
Similarly, employees are entitled to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off work to take the ‘necessary’ action in a particular circumstance.
Therefore, if your employer unreasonably refuses to give time off when you are entitled to it, or subjects you to a detriment (like a disciplinary action or wrongful dismissal) for taking time off for dependants, employment law allows you to make an employment tribunal claim.
Subsequently, you can also obtain reasonable compensation if your claim is successful.
Guidelines On ‘Reasonable’ Time Off
It is a common concern among employers that their employees may abuse the right to reasonable time off for dependants. Subsequently, they become suspicious when an employee asks for such leaves, especially when they are already under some absence management procedure because of their high number of sick leaves.
In the case of Qua v John Morrison Solicitors, the employment appeal tribunal confirmed that the law doesn’t put an upper cap on the amount of time off entitled to an employee.
However, in most cases, it is never more than a few hours or possibly one or two days that could be considered a reasonable time off.
Furthermore, employment law doesn’t entitle an employee to use up the right to take extended periods of time off work, to actually start taking care of the dependants themselves.
Rather the time must be utilised to deal with any emergency situation and then make arrangements for the care of the dependents. This was highlighted in the case of Cortest v O’Toole, wherein, the employment tribunal gave a decision that right to take time off for dependents doesn’t cover the month-long time off from work, which the employee took to take care of her child rather than making appropriate childcare arrangements.
Requesting Time Off
Employment law requires employees to inform their employer of the reason for their absence as soon as reasonably practicable, and also the time period for which they expect to be away.
In the case of Ellis v Ratcliff Palfinger Ltd, an employee disappeared from work on two occasions, to take his pregnant spouse to the hospital. However, he did not inform his employer as soon as reasonably practicable.
Subsequently, when he was dismissed for non-sanctioned absence, the employee claimed for unfair dismissal as he was entitled by law to take time off for dependants.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal, however, rejected this argument.
How Can Employers Manage Absence from Work Pertaining To Time Off For Dependants?
A genuine and properly informed absence from work as time off to take care for a dependant, must not be held against an employee. The Naisbett v Npower Limited case highlights that giving a first stage warning to an employee for taking an absence from work as time off for dependants, leads to a detriment.
Eventually, the Employment Tribunal awarded Ms. Naisbett with £1000 as compensation because her employer, Npower gave her the first-stage warning for absence when she had taken a total of seven days off to care for a dependant during a 12-month time period.
Having said that, if the employers have a real concern about the genuineness of the request, they may take steps to manage this as a misconduct issue and accordingly, deal with it.
Furthermore, employers must understand that taking time off for dependants is only for ’emergency’ situations, and therefore, can design and implement a Dependant Leave policy which specifies the circumstances wherein such absence may be taken. These may include:-
- the fact that the absence is taken in case of an emergency situation, and therefore, should not extend for no more than two days;
- the details of the reason and the likely duration of the absence from work and as soon as reasonably practicable;
- the policy that informs the employees who are abusing their right to claim absence as time off for dependants that such behaviour will be dealt with as a serious disciplinary issue
- details for any other types of leave, like parental leave, which are available in case the employee needs an extended absence.
What To Do If You Suffer Detriment Whilst Caring For Dependents?
According to leading employment law solicitors, it is unfair to employers to refuse their employees of reasonable time off to handle an unexpected event that involves a dependant.
It is also unfair to dismiss or penalise an employee by refusing them promotion, training, or any such opportunities for professional growth due to this reason.
In case, you suffer unfair dismissal, penalised or made redundant because you exercised your right or are refused reasonable time off, you can make an employment tribunal claim. Subsequently, if the tribunal finds your claim reasonable and correct, it may award compensation, or get you reinstated.
Tom Street qualified as a solicitor in 2003 and has over 20 years experience in employment and litigation law. He studied law at the University of Manchester before undertaking the legal practice course at the College of Law in Guildford, going on to complete his legal training at a firm in Chancery Lane, London. Once fully qualified, he moved to a niche litigation practice in the City of London.
In 2010, Tom set up his own legal practice, Tom Street & Co Solicitors and as part of this, in accordance with his strongly held objective to provide everyone with an easy pathway to justice he established the online portals Do I Have A Case? and Tribunal Claim. These websites are trading names of Tom Street & Co Solicitors.