Time off for Dependants

All employees have the right to take unpaid time off work to deal with an emergency involving someone who depends on them (which falls into one of the categories described below). This right applies from the moment employment starts and it applies to all employees, permanent or temporary, full-time or part-time. Your employer cannot penalise you for taking the time off (it is automatically unfair to dismiss you if the reason is that you took or sought to take time off), provided your reasons are genuine and it is reasonable . There is no legal obligation for your employer to pay you for the time you take off (but your employer should not make you rearrange your working hours to make up for lost time).  

What is it for?

You can use the right to time off for dependants when:

  • A dependant is ill or gives birth.
  • A dependant is injured or assaulted.
  • A dependant needs you to deal with an disruption or breakdown in care, such as a childminder failing to turn up, or to deal with an incident which occurs unexpectedly at school.
  • A family member dies and you need to make funeral arrangements or attend the funeral (but your employer may have a specific compassionate leave policy for such cases).

You can only take sufficient time to deal with the immediate problem, and the amount of time taken off work must be reasonable in the circumstances.

Who is a dependant?

“Dependant” includes your husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as part of your family. Others who rely on you for help in an emergency may also qualify.

The legal right to take time off covers events to do with your dependants, so for example, you could not use the right to have time off to deal with a burst pipe.

What is reasonable?

The legal right to take time off is normally for an emergency. But knowing in advance that something will happen does not mean that you definitively cannot have the time off for it. In the case of Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Harrison 2009 the Employment Appeal Tribunal found that a mother who had two weeks notice that her childminder would not be available, and who had tried but was unable to make alternative arrangements for her children, had taken time off for dependants when she was absent from work.

The time off needs to be necessary and reasonable in the circumstances. If you are part of a couple or the other parent is active in the care of the child, the time off that is reasonable in the circumstances would take into account the fact that there is another person to share the care. Normally only one parent would be expected to have the time off at once, however where a child is very ill, has an accident or is having a major operation, it may be reasonable for both parents to have reasonable time off.

To determine what is reasonable, think about:

  • Is it the first time you’re asking for time off for dependents? If not, how often have you taken time off for dependants before and for how long?
  • What was the incident? How severe was it? For how long have you known that it might happen?
  • Is there anybody else that can help?
  • Is there any other arrangement that is possible?

And remember that your employer might have their own policy on taking time off which goes above and beyond the minimum required by law. It is always worth checking your employer’s policy on unpaid leave, parental leave, compassionate leave (in case of a bereavement) and emergency time off for dependants.


How do I request time off for dependants?

  • notify your employer as soon as it is reasonably practical that you need time off and how long you think you’ll be absent (and notify your employer as soon as possible if the situation changes)
  • try to find alternative arrangements (maybe the grandparents can help? or a childminder?) and keep a record of when you have tried them and why they are not possible
  • keep a record of all the conversations (or emails/letters) you have had with your employer on the subject, and if there are comments on your return, what these comments were
  • obtain medical evidence for your GP if you need time off for stress
  • keep an open mind about what is possible and be open to alternatives (maybe suggest a trial for flexible working?)

What if it is not an emergency?

If your dependant is ill for a long period, it may be better to take paid or unpaid leave,  put in a request for flexible working or a request for parental leave.

This advice applies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. If you live in another part of the UK, the law may differ. Please call our helpline for more details.


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