Can employees take time off work to look after their family?

Time off to look after dependantsYour employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work in order to deal with certain unexpected events affecting people they look after.

This right is available to all your employees.


When can an employee request time off?

Your employees have a right to take reasonable time off in the following situations:

•    To provide assistance if a dependant falls ill or gives birth. An illness does not have to be serious to be covered.

•    To make care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill (for example, taking a sick child to stay with relatives).

•    To deal with practical matters required as a result of the death of a dependant (for example, arranging and attending a funeral).

•    To deal with an unexpected change of arrangements for the care of a dependant (for example, the child-minder is ill).

•    To deal with an unexpected incident involving a child during school hours.

Who is a dependant?

•    A spouse, civil partner, child or parent (but not grandparent) of your employee.

•    A person who lives in the same household as your employee (excluding lodgers).

•    Anyone who reasonably relies on your employee to care for them.

What is a “reasonable” amount of time off?

•    This will always depend on the circumstances. In most cases, a few hours should be enough or, at most, one or possibly two days to deal with an incident.

•    Unpaid time off for dependants is intended to be a short-term solution to deal with an immediate crisis. You should discuss alternative arrangements with your employee (for example, taking annual leave), if the situation is likely to require more time to resolve.

What do your employees have to do?

Your employees should inform you as soon as possible of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be away from work.

Practical steps for your business

•    Implement a clearly worded policy setting out the circumstances in which your employees can take time off to care for their dependants.

•    Publicise the policy so that employees cannot claim they were unaware of their obligations.

•    Signpost other rights that your employees may have, which may be more appropriate (for example, parental leave).

•    Ensure that the policy is enforced consistently throughout your business.

More information

If you need more information about your employees’ rights to take time off to care for dependants, please feel free to get in touch.

Legal Advice for Employers