Time off for dependants

09 July 2019

Sometimes, one of your employees may have to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. If this is the case, they might require dependant leave.

It could be because of illness, injuries, or issues involving a dependant’s care arrangements. But whatever the reason, you might be legally obliged to provide your staff with paid or unpaid time off for dependants.

Read what rights and benefits you need to follow for employees with dependants. And see what their entitlements are when they take time off for leave.

What is time off for dependants?

Time off for dependants allows employees to take leave, so they can manage emergencies involving people in their care. It’s sometimes referred to as compassionate leave.

There isn’t specific time off for dependant legislation in UK law.

But the Employment Rights Act (1996) sets out employee rights for taking a reasonable amount of leave for urgent family matters.

This type of leave is classed as emergency time off for dependants. An employee’s length of service isn’t considered for dependant leave. You must provide this to your staff if they request it.

Who is considered a dependant?

According to UK law, if an employee has primary care responsibilities for another person, they are considered a dependant. This can include:

  • A spouse, partner or civil partner.
  • A child.
  • A parent.
  • A person who lives in their household (not tenants, lodgers or employees).
  • A person who would rely on them for help in the event of an accident, illness or injury, such as an elderly neighbour.
  • A person who relies on them to make care arrangements.

When is dependants leave used?

Dependants’ leave should only be used where no other care is available, or where an emergency has happened.

This can include situations like:

  • The dependant is sick or is in an accident.
  • The dependant faces a situation at school.
  • The dependant requires a carer immediately.
  • The dependant gives birth.
  • The death of a dependant.

When employees are faced with an emergency situation, they might require time off the make arrangements. This can include visiting a hospitalised dependant or making funeral arrangements.

What doesn’t qualify for dependant leave?

For most emergencies, you might allow dependant leave. However, there are some situations where you don’t need to provide it. For example:

  • Taking a dependant to a doctor’s appointment.
  • Dealing with the death of a pet.
  • Personal issues, like relationship problems.

What are dependant leave rights?

This right to time off for dependants is an unpaid right – unless you choose to offer payment.

All employees, regardless of length of service, are able to practice this right. Some call this primary carer leave.

However, this can sometimes become misleading. Strictly speaking, this right is available to those whom the individual in need is dependent upon. They don’t always need to be blood-relatives.

Dependants leave policy

Even though your staff are entitled to leave, you still need to manage their absence and any potential impacts to your business.

Have a dependant leave policy which outlines all the rules, benefits, and procedures. And include it in either their contracts or handbooks.

That way, everyone can acknowledge and comply with the rules; as well as understand penalties for breaching them.

Can you be disciplined for taking time off for dependants?

A common concern when taking time off for dependants involves absenteeism. Can employees be disciplined for time off for dependants? In most cases, the answer is no.

It is a legal right for employees. So, you cannot treat them less favourably or discriminate against them for taking it.

However, in some cases excessive time off for dependants might become an issue. Here, you should address matters with the employee. And discuss ways to work around this, such as adjusting working hours or days.

Acas time off for dependants’ information pages offer some guidance on this. However, you need to be wary when applying this for an employee’s specific situation.

Carers leave legislation

Reasonable time off for dependant’s leave is a right enshrined in law for UK employees.

The government has recently announced its intention to introduce carers leave UK-wide. This is somewhat similar to time off for dependants.

It gives all employees who act as unpaid carers the right to a week off (unpaid) each year. This leave can be taken however the employee chooses; like as a half day, individual days, or all at once.

Carers leave involves tending for a person with long-term care needs. This isn’t a legal necessity under time off for dependants. The finer details of this, including when it will be introduced, have yet to be announced.

Get expert support on dependants’ leave with Peninsula

Employees who care for dependants may need more help and support than others. Despite this being a personal factor, you still have a duty of care for your employees.

Making sure they work without stress and pressure will ultimately lead to improved employee relation, retention, and success.

Peninsula provides expert advice on time off for dependants you may request. We can walk you through the process for time off and help you keep your staff happy.

Contact us for guidance on any HR or employment law issues. Or request a call back for a time that suits you.

Get in touch for immediate assistance. Call 0800 028 2420.

Suggested Resources