It may happen that a spouse or another dependant of an employee suddenly falls ill, or a dependant child has an incident at school and this employee urgently requires some time off to deal with an emergency situation.
It is a statutory right granted by s. 57A of the amended Employment Rights Act 1996 to take time off work, which is unpaid, to look after a dependant. Who is a dependant is broadly interpreted: it can be the employee’s parent, child, spouse, any other member of the household.
This right, however, applies only to a narrow number of critical situations where the time off is required:
– to provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted
– to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured
– because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant
– in consequence of the death of a dependant, or
– to deal with an incident which involves a child of the employee and which occurs unexpectedly in a period during which an educational establishment (school, academy and so on) which the child attends is responsible for him.
For the first three categories dependants include any parson who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance when this person falls ill or is injured or assaulted, or for making arrangements for the provision of care in the event this person falls ill or is injured. This person can be, for example, an elderly neighbour after whom the employee looks after on occasion and who would normally rely on the employee in case of emergency.
This statutory right only entitles the employee to take time off which is necessary and for as long as it is necessary to deal with the emergency, for example, routine hospital appointments will not be covered. The length of the emergency time off would normally be hours, or a day or two in the most exceptional circumstances.
As soon as it is practicable the employee is required to notify the employer of the reason for the absence and how long the employee expects to be absent but in some exceptional situations it may not be practicable for the employee to tell the employer of his absence until after the employee returns to work.
It is worth mentioning that this right for emergency time off covers all employees regardless of the length of their service. If the employee is dismissed for the reason of taking time off to look after dependants provided the situation falls under one of the categories explained above, the dismissal is likely to be deemed for assertion of the statutory right, and hence automatically unfair.