People sometimes need to take time off for dependants at work to look after family members or people that they live with. The law allows employees to take reasonable time off from work to take action. It also prevents people from being treated badly or dismissed if they have taken time off.
Who counts as a dependant?
- A spouse or civil partner
- A child
- A parent
- Any person who lives in the same house but not if they are a lodger, boarder, tenant or employee.
What can I have time off work for?
The law is very clear about what you are able to take time off for.
- Providing assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted.
A dependant does not need to be seriously ill, just in need of comfort, reassurance and assistance if they are in distress.
- Making arrangements for care of a dependant who is ill or injured
Note the word ‘making arrangement’ which is not the same as caring for yourself. If your dependant is ill then you are not permitted a long period off to care for them only time to make arrangements for their care and to avert a crisis.
- If a dependant dies
This is not compassionate leave, it only covers taking time off to deal with funeral arrangements, death certificate etc.
Where a death has occurred overseas then a reasonable time should be agreed between employer and employee.
- To deal with unexpected disruption or termination of care arrangements.
This covers breakdown in care which are unexpected such as a nanny calling in sick or day care being closed.
- To deal with an unexpected incident at school, college or university
A child being suspended or excluded or the school closing due to flooding, snow or power failure, all count. Industrial action (striking) by teaching staff is not unexpected and therefore will not count.
Household emergencies do not count
You cannot take time off under “time off for dependants” law for any of the following:
- Boiler breaking down;
- Waiting in for a parcel;
- Waiting in for a household repair;
- Dealing with flooding, house fire or burglary;
- Illness, injury or death of a pet.
How much time can I take off?
The law says that you can take reasonable time off. No maximum amount of time has been set but in general a few days is always reasonable. The effect on an employer’s business is irrelevant to the question of what is reasonable.
Anything more than two weeks would probably be pushing the boundaries of reasonable because this law is designed to protect people to take emergency time off for dependants.
How do I ask for time off for dependants?
The nature of taking time off in family emergencies means that it is sometimes impossible to inform an employer straight away. The law requires you to tell work as soon as is practicable.
Do you have to prove why you needed the time off?
The law does not require you to produce evidence of the reason why you took time off, however there is nothing to prevent an employer from asking for evidence.
What if I am refused time off or penalised because I have taken it?
Your employer cannot refuse to give you reasonable time off as set out above and you cannot be dismissed or treated less well if you have had to take time off.
Tony’s and his wife Judith have two young children. Tony works full time and Judith stays at home to look after the children. Judith is ill and cannot care for the children. Tony is allowed to take time off to look after the children whilst his wife is ill because this is an unexpected disruption in childcare arrangements. If Tony’s wife is ill for more than a few hours or days then he is permitted time off to make alternative care arrangements for the children and for Judith if necessary.
If Tony is dismissed or treated badly because he has taken this time off then he can make a claim to an employment tribunal.
The law which allows dependants to take time off in an emergency can be found in Section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996.