Time off for dependants

From day one of employment all employees have the right to time off for dependants. Time off for dependants is time off during working hours to deal with unforeseen matters and emergencies.

Who is a dependant?

A dependant is someone who depends on the employee for care.

A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, parent, or someone else who depends on the employee, for example an elderly neighbour.

How much time off can be taken?

There is no set limit to how much time can be taken off. The right is to a reasonable amount of time off, although it is not stated how much is reasonable. In most cases one or two days will be sufficient to deal with the immediate situation, but it will depend on individual circumstances.

The employee should tell their employer as soon as possible the reason for the absence and how long they expect to be absent.

What can the time off be for?

Time off for dependants is to deal with unexpected situations. For example:

  • to deal with a breakdown in the care of a dependant
  • to put longer term care in place for children or elderly relatives
  • if a dependant falls ill or is taken into hospital.

The right to time off for dependants does not give the right to automatic time off in a domestic emergency, such as a boiler breaking down, or for the care of pets, as neither of these involve a dependant.

Time off for dependants would also not cover a situation that an employee knows about in advance, for example taking a child to a hospital appointment.

If an employee needs time off for an occasion that would not fall under time off for dependants they should consider other options such as:

  • checking their contract to see if there is a contractual right to time off
  • discussing the possibility of unpaid leave with their employer
  • requesting annual leave for the time required
  • considering whether they would be able to request parental leave.

Pay while absent

There is no automatic right to be paid when taking time off for dependants. An employer can offer a certain amount of paid time off for emergency situations and, if it does, this should be clearly set out in a contract of employment. If the contract is silent on the issue then the time off would usually be unpaid.

Bereavement

Time off for dependants allows employees unpaid time off to arrange or attend the funeral of a dependant.

An employer may have its own policy for when an employee is bereaved (sometimes called  compassionate leave), which may allow extra time off or payment for the time taken. There is no obligation on an employer to do so but, if it does, it should be clearly set out in an employment contract.

Time off for dependants does not allow for time off to cope with the emotional effects of a bereavement. If an employee feels unable to work following a bereavement they should speak to their employer or consider speaking to their doctor.

For more information visit Bereavement in the workplace.

Less favourable treatment

Time off for dependants is a statutory right for all employees and is it unlawful for an employer to subject its employees to any detriment for taking it.

If an employee feels that they are being treated less favourably by their employer for taking time off for dependants, they should first consider raising the issue informally. Many issues can be resolved quickly by having a conversation with a line manager or other appropriate person within the business.

If an informal approach does not work an employee has the option of raising a formal complaint (also known as a grievance). This should be done in writing and make the employer aware of how strongly the employee feels about the situation, while also giving the employer the opportunity to resolve it.

As a last resort the employee could consider making a complaint to an Employment Tribunal. There is generally a three month time limit for bringing a claim to Employment Tribunal. However this time limit may be paused if Early Conciliation is taking place. For more information, go to Employment tribunals.