Employees, from the first day of their employment, have a statutory right to take reasonable unpaid time off to deal with unexpected emergencies concerning a dependant.

A ‘dependant’ usually means a spouse, partner, child, parent or someone living in the employee’s home as part of the family. In certain circumstances a broader definition may be appropriate – such as a neighbour who relies on the employee.

What is a reasonable amount of time off?

There is no limit to the amount of time that is ‘reasonable’ and the law doesn’t define what is appropriate –  although generally it is likely to be limited to one or two days, mainly because it is to deal with the immediate emergency and put alternative arrangements in place for the medium term.

What counts as an emergency?

  • Providing assistance if a dependant is ill, is injured or assaulted or gives birth – though how unexpected this is will depend on the circumstances.
  • To make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured.
  • Dealing with the consequences of the death of a dependant.
  • Dealing with the consequences of a child being involved in an unexpected incident at school or during school hours.
  • Where childcare or other arrangements for the care of a dependant unexpectedly break down.

Situations that would not be covered include other emergencies such as a flood, the health of someone who is not a dependant, or the health of a pet. The right also does not cover non-emergencies such as a planned medical appointment or arranging for childcare during school holidays.

Employees can complain to an Employment Tribunal if  their employer hasn’t permitted them to take time off or subjected them to a detriment. Any dismissal on these grounds is automatically unfair regardless of the length of the person’s employment.

What should employees do?

  • Inform your employer as soon as is reasonably practicable.
  • Explain what has happened and that you are taking unpaid time off to deal with the emergency.
  • If possible, give your employer an idea of when you will be back. If your return is delayed, let your employer know.

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