Time off for Dependants

Last updated: 10 Feb 2021

Who is it for?

What can I take it for? 

Who counts as a dependant? 

Is it paid? 

What does it mean for time off to be reasonable? 

How do I request time off for dependants? 

What if it is not an emergency?

Can my employer penalise me for taking time off for dependants? 

Who is it for?

  • All employees: permanent, temporary, full-time or part-time 
  • From the moment employment starts, irrespective of length of service 
  • Does not apply to workers, self-employed people, the armed forces, members of the police force and certain fishermen 

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 a 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. 

Is it paid? 

There is no right to be paid for taking time off for dependants, but your employer should not make you rearrange your working hours to make up for lost time. 

What is reasonable? 

The time off  needs to be necessary and reasonable in the circumstances. For example, if you are part of a couple or the other parent is active in the care of your 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 the following: 

  • Is it the first time you’re asking for time off for dependants? 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? 

Disruption or inconvenience caused to the employer’s business should not be taken into account when determining how much time off is ‘reasonable’ to deal with the emergency or unexpected circumstance involving a dependant. 

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 additional 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 you knew about a situation beforehand, this would not normally be covered by time off for dependants. You could request unpaid parental leave instead. If your child is disabled, you can take parental leave in blocks of a day, otherwise it must be taken in blocks of one week. See here for more information.  

However,  knowing in advance that something will happen does not mean that you definitively cannot have the time off for it, so long as you taking time off is necessary. 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. 

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. 

I am a parent of a disabled child who wishes to take time off work in order to attend a meeting at my child’s school so I can discuss the necessary special needs arrangements. Can I take time off for dependants to attend this meeting? 

The law is not clear. Normally time off for dependants is reserved for emergencies, or a breakdown in care arrangements, which is not the case here. However, you could still argue that attending a meeting to discuss your child’s special needs arrangements, which can be attended by no one other than yourself and  has been arranged at short notice, counts as time off for dependants. The law states that you can take the time off :  

  • To make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ‘ill’. Illness, for this purpose, specifically includes mental illness – so you could argue that it extends to all disabilities.
  • To deal with an incident which occurs unexpectedly while the child is at school – you could argue that the reason the school asks to see you is because of a previous unexpected incident. 
  • Because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant: You could argue that without this meeting, there would be a disruption for the care of your child.  

However, if the meeting was not arranged at short notice, then you could consider using annual leave to attend the meeting or you may be entitled to take special leave under your contract of employment and it would be worth checking this with your employer. If your child is disabled then you could also consider making a parental leave request to attend the meeting (remember that parental leave can be taken in blocks of one day if your child is disabled).

Can my employer penalise me for taking time off for dependants? 

Your employer cannot penalise you for taking, or seeking to take, 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.  Specifically, your employer cannot: 

  • Discipline you for seeking to take, or taking, time off for dependants. 
  • Refuse you training or promotion because you sought to take, or have taken, time off for dependants.  
  • Dismiss you or chose you for redundancy because you sought to take, or have taken, time off for dependants. 
  • Refuse you reasonable time off for dependants. 

There is no limit on how many times you can take time off for dependants, but your employer may want to talk to you if they think it is affecting your work. 

If you think you’ve been treated unfairly for taking time off for dependants or if you think that your employer has unreasonably refused to give you permission to take time off for dependants, you should always try to solve the matter informally with your employer first. If this fails, you can raise a grievance with your employer or make a claim in the Employment Tribunal. Note that strict time limits apply.  

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.

If you have further questions and would like to contact our advice team please use our advice contact form below or call us.

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The information on the law contained on this site is provided free of charge and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice to any person on a specific case or matter. If you are not a solicitor, you are advised to obtain specific legal advice about your case or matter and not to rely solely on this information. Law and guidance is changing regularly in this area.