All employees have a legal right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to deal with emergency situations affecting their dependants. This is typically known as ‘time off for dependants’ or ‘dependant care leave’.
But what is a ‘reasonable amount’ of time? And what can be classed as an emergency?
What’s classed as a dependant?
Firstly, we need to establish what the law considers a ‘dependant’.
A dependant typically falls into one of the following categories:
- an employee’s spouse, civil partner, parent or child
- a person who lives in the same household as the employee but who is not their tenant, lodger, boarder or employee
- anyone else who reasonably relies on the employee to provide assistance or take action in an emergency situation involving them.
When can time off be taken?
Typically, the following scenarios are considered ‘emergency situations’ where time off is entitled:
- to provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted
- to make longer-term care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured
- to take action required in consequence of the death of a dependant
- to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant
- to deal with an unexpected incident involving their child during school hours (or those of another educational establishment).
The time off should be used to carry out a specific action in relation to the dependant; picking them up from school if they are sick and there is no one else who can be called upon, for example.
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What might not be defined as time off for dependants?
Situations which an employer knows about beforehand, such as planned school holidays, are not normally covered by time off for dependants. Parents could request parental leave instead.
In addition, attending planned medical appointments with dependants is not technically covered by this legislation.
Be careful about any judgements about what is an emergency. Knowing something will happen in advance does not always mean it doesn’t count as an emergency. For example, if an employee gets a couple of weeks’ notice that their childminder will not be available, and they can’t make any alternative arrangements, this is still a breakdown in planned cover and they are likely to need leave.
How much time can be taken off?
The law provides for a ’reasonable amount’ of time off to carry out the actions involved in dealing with the crisis. In practice, this usually looks like a day or two, although it will depend on the situation and each scenario should be considered individually, based on its facts.
Time Off for Dependants policy
A Time Off for Dependants policy is extremely useful, particularly because what could be considered an ‘emergency’, ‘a dependant’ or a ‘reasonable’ time period, is somewhat subjective.
By setting boundaries and definitions in writing, it will help you to treat dependant care leave fairly for all your employees and reduce the likelihood of disputes around entitlement.
Your policy should detail:
- what time off can be taken for
- what might be considered ‘reasonable time off’
- how employees should inform you of their need for time off
- what the consequences might be for failing to follow the policy, i.e. disciplinary action.
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If you’re struggling with the nuances around time off for dependants and struggling to determine when it should apply, our HR consultants can help.
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