Employees are entitled to take areasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with certain emergency and unexpected situations involving their dependants. This might include picking up a child who falls ill at school; making funeral arrangements on the death of a dependant; or taking a spouse to hospital following an accident.

There is no definition as to what is classed as a ‘reasonable’ amount of time and this has to be determined based on the facts of each case. However, usually no more than a day or two should be needed. Unfortunately, there’s no limit on the number of times an employee can be off each year under the statutory right.

Many employees think that this entitlement gives them the right to take the time off to provide on-going care for a sick dependent but this is not the case. Also, if a dependant suffers from an underlying medical condition which is likely to cause regular relapses it will depend on the circumstances whether your employee is entitled to time off for dependants when a particular relapse occurs, or whether the employee ought to have put in place longer-term care arrangements to deal with such relapses.

It’s worth noting that foreseeable absences for example, taking a dependent to a hospital appointment or a school closure for say a teachers’ strike, would not warrant time off for dependents leave as they are not emergency or unexpected situations. In such circumstances the employee should book the time off as annual leave.

It is important to remember that if you unreasonably refuse time off when an employee is entitled to it, or subject them to a detriment (such as disciplinary action) or dismiss them for taking or seeking to take time off for dependants, they may be able to bring an employment tribunal claim and could be awarded compensation if their claim is successful.

If you would like guidance or advice on time off for dependants, please call me on 01702 216573 or email fiona@practical-hr.co.uk

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