Law guide: Workplace

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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.

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

You must tell your employer the reason for your absence and how long you expect to be away from work as soon as possible.

There may be exceptional circumstances where you return to work before it was possible to contact your employer, but you must still tell the employer the reason for the absence on returning.

It is not necessary for you to give notice in writing.

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

This right is separate from the right to take carer's leave.

Who are dependants?

A dependant will be your husband, wife, child or parent. It also includes someone who lives in the same household as you. For example, this could be a partner or an elderly aunt or grandparent who lives with you. It does not include tenants or boarders living in your 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 you for assistance. This may be where you are the primary carer or the only person who can help in an emergency.

Family emergencies

The right enables employees to take action that 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. It can be the result of a deterioration of an existing condition - for example, a dependant may be suffering from a nervous breakdown; they many not require full-time care, but there may be occasions where their condition deteriorates, and you need to take time off work as a consequence. 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, you can take time off work if necessary to comfort or help the victim.

When a dependant is having a baby

Where necessary you 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, you can take time off to make funeral arrangements, as well as to attend a funeral. If the funeral is overseas, then you and your employer will need to agree a length of absence that 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 your child during school hours

You can take time off to deal with a serious incident involving your child during school hours. For example, they have been involved in a fight; are distressed; have been injured on a school trip; or are 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, if you are moved to lower grade work because you exercised this right you will be able to make a complaint that you have suffered a detriment.

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

If you believe that you have been unreasonably refused time off, have suffered a detriment for taking or seeking to take emergency dependant leave, you should first seek to resolve the dispute by mutual agreement with your employer through the business's grievance procedure, if one exists.

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