- The right to time off to care for dependants is intended to be for emergencies only, and the time taken off is unpaid.
- In deciding whether to allow the time off, the employer can consider whether it is necessary, and take into account any previous dependant leave which the employee has taken.
- There is no specified limit on the length of a period of time off for dependants - but it must be reasonable.
- An employee can make a complaint to the employment tribunal that s/he has been unfairly refused time off to care for dependants.
- Dismissing an employee for taking time off for dependants will be automatically unfair.
- It is anticipated that instances of time off for dependants may increase due to the school/nursery etc closes because of the coronavirus.
- where a dependant falls ill, is injured or is assaulted
- to making arrangements for the provision of care.
- where the employee has to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant
- in the case of the death of a dependant
- where the arrangements for the care of a dependant have been unexpectedly disrupted or terminated (eg a child-minder fails to turn up)
- where there has been an unexpected incident involving the employee's child at school.
Also key to the definition is the involvement of a dependant in the emergency at hand. For this reason, emergencies relating to other domestic circumstances eg a flood at home will not be covered under this right.
A dependant of an employee is defined in the legislation as one of the following:
- husband or wife or partner
- someone else who is regarded as part of the family and lives with an employee (but not tenants, boarders, lodgers or employees)
- anyone else who is reliant on an employee in emergency situations
- the availability of someone else who can help in the circumstances
- the nature of the incident
- the relationship of the employee with the dependant.
The entitlement is to a 'reasonable amount of time off'. In assessing this, the employer cannot take into account the needs of the business and any disruption that the employee's time off might cause. However, if the employee has taken time off to care for dependants on previous occasions, the employer can take into consideration the following:
- the number of times the employee has taken time off
- the length of time off that the employee has taken
- when the time off was taken
- whether on each occasion the employer was informed of the absences
Employers should hold a return to work interview with an employee on their return to work after a period of time off for dependants, noting the number of days taken and any support to be offered to the employee. A template form for this purpose is available in the Time off for dependants section within our model documents.
The right to take time off to care for dependants is in an emergency only. The very nature of the entitlement to time off for dependants means that the employer cannot plan for the time off. However, the employee is required to inform the employer as soon as reasonably practicable about the absence, the reason for it and the anticipated length. Any extension to the originally anticipated length must be notified to the employer as soon as is reasonably practicable. The employee is not required to give 'daily updates' if the absence goes on for more than one day, but he or she is expected to keep the employer informed.
- where it is not necessary to take the time off (for example, if a child has had a serious accident it would be reasonable for both parents to go to the hospital, but if a childminder was ill it would not be reasonable for both parents to leave their work to care for the child) or
- where the amount of time off requested by the employee is unreasonable.
Under normal circumstances, an employer is likely to only deal with a relatively small number of instances of time off for dependants throughout the year. However, on rare occasions, the number of instances may well increase due to unprecedented situations like coronavirus. Even when this happens, it is not within the discretion of the employer to deny the right to time off for dependants. Employers are encouraged to open up communication with employees about how an extended period of time off will be dealt with. Homeworking, annual leave or a temporary period of flexible working may help.
Employers must take a common sense approach when establishing principles around a ‘reasonable’ amount of time. An Employment Tribunal has held, in Naisbett v Npower Ltd, that a total of seven days, spanning six instances of absence, within a period of 12 months was ‘reasonable’.
The right to take time off for dependants extends to the amount of time necessary to make arrangements in consequence of an emergency situation. In the circumstances of a death, the amount of time to be taken would cover, for example, making funeral arrangements but does not cover time taken by an employee in order to grieve.
Time off to grieve would normally be covered under an employer’s compassionate/bereavement leave policy. Entitlements are at the discretion of the employer. However, from 6 April 2020, 'bereaved parents' are entitled to take a maximum of 2 weeks' leave as parental bereavement leave in the event that they lose a child under the age of 18. This is the only type of statutory bereavement leave available.
During any period when the employee is absent from work under the time off to care for dependants provisions, he or she is not entitled to pay. Continuity of service will, however, not be affected.
An employee can make a complaint to the employment tribunal that he or she has been unreasonably refused time off to care for dependants. This claim carries no service qualification. If the complaint is found to be justified, the tribunal will make a declaration that the refusal was unfair, and award compensation that is 'just and equitable'. This is determined with consideration of any loss that the employee might have suffered and having regard to the employer's default.
Dismissing an employee because he or she exercised the right to take time off to care for dependants will be automatically unfair. Similarly, employees must not be subjected to any detriment for exercising this right. This means that the normal two year qualifying service rule will not apply; employees can make this claim from day one of employment. Compensation for a dismissal of this kind is capped at the current statutory limit as shown on our Statutory Rates page.