Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, all employees have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies affecting their dependants. Company rules covering this should make it clear what the right is, who can exercise it and in what circumstances.
The rules should make it clear who the company classes as a dependant. Under the law, a dependant is defined as a husband, wife, civil partner, child, parent or someone living in the employee’s household as a member of the family. It also covers someone who relies on the employee for assistance as their primary carer, for example an elderly neighbour. Your rules can include others under the category of dependants but cannot remove any of these.
All the circumstances in which the time off can be taken may not be able to be included within the rules as the right covers a wide range of situations. However, the rules can state, in line with the law, that there must be a genuine emergency that was unforeseen. This can include a dependant falling ill, a dependant giving birth, a dependant dying or to deal with an unexpected breakdown of care arrangements or an incident involving a child during school hours.
An employee is allowed ‘reasonable’ time off and this again may need to be deliberately unclear in the rules. This time may be one or two days, or may be longer, but cases show that the right to time off is only for dealing with the immediate crisis. The rules can cover what leave is available to employees once the immediate crisis has passed but time off is still required, for example, the taking of parental leave, annual leave or compassionate leave.
The rules should also put in to place the notification requirements. The law requires employees to tell the employer the reason for the absence, and the likely length of absence, as soon as is “reasonably practicable” however you can set rules on how to be told this, for example by telephone, once at the beginning of the absence or at the start of each day of absence.
The clearer the rules the better the position of employers and employees as both parties are aware of what is required of them.
If you need any clarification on this issue then contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.