Time off for dependants: an introduction
The law gives you the right to a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with emergencies involving your dependants. This is sometimes referred to as compassionate leave. The law does not, however, give you the right to be paid for that time off.
You can request time off for dependants, even if you only recently started the job.
Who is considered a dependant?
According to the law your dependants include your parents, spouse / civil partner and children.
Other relatives, friends or unrelated children who live in your home as family are also considered your dependants. This would include a grandparent or other relative who lives in the family home and also includes unmarried / same-sex partners. It does not apply to someone in a commercial relationship with you, such as a live-in employee, lodger or tenant.
Others who ‘reasonably’ depend on your help in case of an emergency also qualify as your dependants. For example, an elderly or disabled neighbour whose usual care arrangements have fallen through may require your help.
Situations that qualify for time off
You can take time off for dependants to deal with an emergency. Examples of unplanned emergencies include:
- the illness or injury of a dependant;
- the death of a dependant;
- the failure of the usual carer to arrive for work;
- an incident with your child at school;
- when a dependant gives birth.
As well as dealing with the emergency you can also request time off to make arrangements related to the emergency such as:
- arranging and attending a dependant’s funeral;
- arranging long-term care for an injured or ill dependant.
Situations that do not qualify for time off
Your employer may allow time off for other emergencies but there are some situations that your employer does not have to give you time off for, including: dealing with emergencies involving your home (such as fire, flooding, burglary or a broken boiler) and:
- taking your dependants to planned medical appointments;
- dealing with the illness or injury of a pet;
- personal crises (such as relationship problems).
Notifying your employer
Time off for dependants is usually to deal with emergencies so you are not expected to provide advance notice but you must tell your employer about your absence as soon as possible. You also need to tell your employer how long you expect to be away.
If you need to leave work to deal with an emergency you must make a reasonable effort to inform your employer before leaving.
If you think your employer’s leave policy could be more supportive of family-friendly working and reduce workplace stress, suggest the idea to your UNISON rep.
Next steps for UNISON reps
Does your employer have a reasonable leave policy? A good policy with a defined amount of paid leave for employees to deal with emergencies can reduce members’ stress. Get the support of members to negotiate a better leave policy.
- You have the right to take time off for unplanned events or emergencies involving your dependants.
- Time off for dependants can only be taken to deal with unforeseen or emergency situations.
- Your employer must allow you a reasonable amount of time off work to deal with emergencies involving your dependants.
- Your dependants include your parents, children, partner or other people who live in your home as family.
Time off for dependants
How often can you take time off for dependants?
There is no limit to the number of times you can take time off for dependants.
However, your employer may take into account previous periods of time off for dependants when considering whether or not your most recent request is reasonable and therefore whether or not to grant it.
Whether or not the amount of time that you took off or sought to take off was reasonable will also be relevant if you claim to have suffered from detrimental treatment/dismissal as a result of taking or requesting time off for dependants.
How much time can you take off to deal with emergencies involving your dependants?
The law states that the amount of time granted to an employee must be ‘reasonable’.
Your employer should have a written policy regarding leave or it may be specified in your employment contract.
If you think that your employer has unreasonably refused to permit you to take time off you have the right to make a complaint to an employment tribunal.
This must be done within three months less one day of the incident.
Is time taken off for dependants paid or unpaid?
There is no law requiring employers to pay an employee for the time they take off to deal with emergencies.
However, many employers do pay for a certain number of days off for dependants per year.
Ask your branch if there is a local or national agreement entitling you to paid time off for dependants.
Who is considered a dependant?
According to the law your dependants include your parents, spouse / civil partner and children, as well as relatives, friends or unrelated children who live in your home as family.
Other people who reasonably depend on your help in case of an emergency are also dependants.