Time off for dependants
This is the kind of time off you might need if there is an emergency.
To qualify for this right you have to be an employee and not fall within certain excluded groups (in particular the armed forces, police, agency workers). You don’t need to have worked for your employer for any particular length of time.
You are entitled to take time off in the following circumstances:
- To assist a dependant who has fallen ill, has given birth or who has been injured or assaulted
- To make arrangements for an ill or injured dependant
- In consequence of the death of a dependant
- Because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant, or
- To deal with an incident which involves a child of yours and which occurs unexpectedly in a period during which an educational establishment which the child attends is responsible for him (this might be something like a fight or an injury on a school trip)
It's worth noting that the injury or illness can be mental as well as physical.
There is no legal requirement for your employer to pay you for this kind of time off but have a look at your contract of employment and any policies your employer has because many employers do pay in these circumstances.
Who are your dependants?
Dependants for these purposes are not just your children. They are:
- Your spouse or civil partner
- Your parents
- People living in your house who are not tenants or lodgers or boarders of some sort or your employee
However, a wider category of persons is covered in two circumstances:
- Where the time off is (a) to provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted, or (b) to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured, an employee's dependants will also include (in addition to the standard categories — see above) any person who reasonably relies on the employee:
- for assistance on an occasion when the person falls ill or is injured or assaulted, or
- to make arrangements for the provision of care in the event of illness or injury
- Where the time off is sought because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant, an employee's dependants will also include (in addition to the standard categories — see above) any person who reasonably relies on the employee to make arrangements for the provision of care
There is no right to time off to care for anyone who is not a dependant and there is no general right to compassionate leave.
You must tell your employer
In order to qualify for the right, you must tell your employer:
- The reason for your absence as soon as reasonably practicable, and
- How long you expect to be absent for
If it's not reasonably possible to tell your employer the reason for the absence until after you have returned to work, you must tell your employer the reason for your absence as soon as you do return.
How much time off can you take?
You have the right to a 'reasonable' amount of time off.
Since this is really a right to time to sort things out in a case of emergency, it will rarely be reasonable for it to last more than a very short time (perhaps a few days tops) but this will really depend on the particular circumstances. You are allowed time off to deal with a sudden crisis and to make arrangements for the longer-term care of a dependant. But the ‘time off for dependants’ provisions are not designed to permit you to take prolonged time off eg to care for a sick child. You might be able to take parental leave for a longer period of that kind so have a look at our factsheet on Parental Leave.
If the reasons you need to be off work are not unexpected, you should consider taking annual leave or possibly parental leave, for example if you need to settle a child into nursery or to be with a child for a scheduled hospital stay.
If you have a dependant with a medical condition which regularly relapses, you will not be entitled to this kind of time off to deal with every relapse. You are entitled however to time off if you need it, to sort out arrangements for dealing with the relapses. Again, you may also be able to take parental leave.
Where the time off is in relation to the death of a dependant, it is time off to make arrangements and eg to attend a funeral, rather than a more general right to bereavement leave or compassionate leave. However, many employers will have provisions about compassionate leave, so do check whether your employer has a more generous policy.
Time off in relation to disrupted or terminated care arrangements covers events such as your nanny going AWOL one day or your nursery being shut but it would not cover several weeks off because your childminder was ill – you would be able to take enough time off to make other arrangements for your children to be cared for.
If you are off work and the reason for your absence changes, you should inform your employer of the new reason.
If your employer refuses the time off
If your employer refuses to allow you to take time off or treats you badly or dismisses you because you have taken it, you may be able to bring an employment tribunal claim. Do take advice quickly because there are deadlines to submit a claim, usually three months from the refusal to allow you to take time off or from the bad treatment/dismissal.
Natasha Joffe and Lydia Seymour. Please have a look at our disclaimer and bear in mind that the information provided is no substitute for specific advice on your individual case.