Time off for Dependants
3 August 2016
All employees have the right to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to take “necessary” action to deal with particular situations involving their dependants. The right typically arises in the context of an employee’s child, but it can also apply to their spouse, parent or even someone (other than a lodger/tenant) who lives in the same household as the employee.
Legislation specifies the occasions when an employee may be entitled to leave of this nature. This includes instances of illness, injury or death, to make care arrangements for an ill or injured dependant, to deal with the disruption of care arrangements or to deal with an unexpected incident involving the employee’s child during school hours. Events which do not fall into these categories may not fall under this statutory right. For instance, if an employee needs to rush home to deal with something such as a flood or house fire, this should be dealt with by contractual, policy or ad hoc arrangements.
Whilst this may seem like a right that is weighted heavily in favour of the employee, it should be stressed that it only applies to time off that is both “reasonable” and “necessary”.
What is reasonable will depend on the circumstances of each situation. Whilst legislation does not specify a limit, case law has determined that, in the vast majority of cases, no more than a few hours or, at most, one or two days would be regarded as reasonable. It is important to note that when looking at whether the time off is reasonable, the disruption or inconvenience to the employer’s business should not be taken into account.
Similarly, whether the time off is necessary or not will also depend on the circumstances. Relevant factors include the nature of the incident, the closeness of the relationship to the employee and the extent to which anyone else is available to help out. It is likely that an incident occurring at short notice will increase the necessity of an employee taking time off. Having a couple of weeks’ notice in which to make alternative arrangements can, but will not always, mean that the employee could be expected to put alternative arrangements in place.
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