Law guide: Employment

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Emergency dependant leave

Emergency dependant leave

What is emergency dependant leave?

An employee has a right to take a reasonable amount of time off work to take necessary action to look after a dependant and deal with family emergencies. This right does not include an entitlement to pay so whether or not an employee will be paid is left to the contract of employment.

Employees do not have to complete a qualifying period in order to be able to take time off in an emergency. They are entitled to this right from day one of starting their job.

Employees must tell their employer, as soon as practicable, the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be away from work.

There may be exceptional circumstances where an employee returns to work before it was possible to contact the employer, but they should still tell the employer the reason for the absence on returning.

It is not necessary for an employee to give notice in writing.

Employers who think that an employee is abusing the right to time off should deal with the situation according to their normal disciplinary procedures.

Note this right is separate to the right to take carer's leave.

Who are dependants?

A dependant is the husband, wife, child or parent of the employee. It also includes someone who lives in the same household as the employee. For example, this could be a partner or an elderly aunt or grandparent who lives in the household. It does not include tenants or boarders living in the family home, or someone who lives in the household as an employee, such as a live-in housekeeper.

In cases of illness or injury, or where care arrangements break down, a dependant may also be someone who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance. This may be where the employee is the primary carer or is the only person who can help in an emergency; for example, an aunt who lives nearby who the employee looks after outside work falls and breaks a leg, where the employee is closest on hand at the time of the fall.

Family emergencies

The right enables employees to take action which is necessary to deal with an unexpected or sudden problem concerning a dependant and make any necessary longer term arrangements.

If a dependant falls ill, or has been injured or assaulted

The illness or injury need not necessarily be serious or life-threatening, and may be mental or physical. The illness or injury may be a result of a deterioration of an existing condition; for example, a dependant may be suffering from a nervous breakdown; they may not require full-time care, but there may be occasions where their condition deteriorates, and the employee needs to take time off work as a result. The right to time off is available where a dependant has been assaulted but is uninjured: for example when a dependant has been a victim of a mugging incident, but has not been physically hurt, the employee can take time off work if necessary to comfort or help the victim.

When a dependant is having a baby

Where necessary an employee can take time off to assist a dependant when she is having a baby. This does not include taking time off after the birth to care for the child - see Parental Leave.

Longer term care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured

Where a dependant needs to be cared for because of an illness or injury, the employee can take time off work to make longer term care arrangements. This might mean making arrangements to employ a temporary carer or taking a sick child to stay with relatives.

Dealing with the death of a dependant

When a dependant dies, an employee can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral. If the funeral is overseas, then the employer and employee will need to agree a length of absence which is reasonable in the circumstances.

Dealing with an unexpected disruption or breakdown of care arrangements for a dependant

Time off can be taken where the normal carer of the dependant is unexpectedly absent; for example, a childminder or nurse may fail to turn up as arranged, or the nursery or nursing home may close unexpectedly.

Dealing with an unexpected incident involving the employee's child during school hours

An employee can take time off to deal with a serious incident involving their child during school hours. For example, if their child has been involved in a fight, is distressed, has been injured on a school trip or is being suspended from school.

Protection from dismissal and detriment

Employees are protected from being penalised or dismissed because they have taken, or have sought to take, time off under their right to emergency dependant leave. For example, someone who is moved to lower grade work because they have exercised this right would be able to make a complaint that they have suffered a detriment.

The term 'detriment' can cover a wide range of discriminatory actions, such as denial of promotion, facilities or training opportunities which the employer would otherwise have offered or made available.

An employee who believes that they have unreasonably been refused time off, has suffered a detriment for taking or seeking to take emergency dependant leave should first seek to resolve the dispute by mutual agreement with you.

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