Lets face it, life is unpredictable and at some point(s) in our working lives its likely that an unexpected emergency will arise involving a loved one.  Under the Employment Rights Act 1996 employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work in order to deal with a particular unexpected emergency affecting a dependant.

Where a tribunal finds that an employee has been refused time off or that they have suffered a detriment for taking or seeking to take time off, compensation will likely be awarded.  So how can employers ensure that they stay on the right side of this law?

This guide considers your legal obligations and how these can be applied in the workplace.

1.  Are all employees entitled to time off for dependants (TOD)? 

Yes.  There is no service qualification for this right, which is available to all employees, both full and part time.

2.  Who qualifies as a dependant? 

A dependant is defined as the spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee, plus any person who lives at the same house (other than as a lodger, tenant, boarder or employee) and any other person who would reasonably rely on the employee for assistance or arrangements for care in the event of illness or injury.

3.  How is an unexpected emergency defined? 

An employee is entitled to take time off work:

  • where a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted;
  • to provide assistance following the death of a dependant;
  • where there has been an unexpected disruption to, or termination of, the arrangements for the care of a dependant; and
  • to deal with an emergency relating to a child of the employee that occurs unexpectedly at the child’s school.

4. Is this time off paid or unpaid? 

There is no right of the employee to be paid for this time off.

5.  What should an employee do if they require TOD? 

They should contact their manager at the earliest opportunity and explain the reason for the absence and how long they expect to be absent.

6.  How long should an employee be absent from work on TOD?

The right to time off for dependants will, in most cases, be one or two days. The employee must actively seek alternative longer-term arrangements as soon as possible after the emergency occurs.

7.  What happens if TOD requests are frequently made by the same employee?

A meeting should be arranged to discuss the circumstances of the employee and the scope of TOD.  If further time off is required which falls outside of TOD, the employer may use its discretion on whether or not to grant, for example, unpaid leave or annual leave at short notice.

For more information, contact Ramshaw HR to discuss family friendly policies and making allowances for time off for dependents


By Bruce Ramshaw

Principal Consultant


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