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Are you entitled to time off to deal with an emergency involving dependants?

All employees have the right to time off to deal with an emergency involving a ‘dependant’, or if a ‘dependant’ dies, or their child is stillborn or is under the age of 18.

Time off for family and dependants

As an employee, you’re entitled to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off from work in order to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. 

Unfortunately, the law does not give you a right to paid time off to deal with an emergency involving a ‘dependant’ or grieve a loved one. But your employment contract may give you the right to paid or unpaid time off beyond what the law entitles you to.

It’s worth checking your contract or staff handbook, to see whether your employer is more generous. Some employers will pay staff who have a family emergency, or grant paid or unpaid “compassionate leave” in these situations. Even if your employer doesn’t have a policy for your particular situation, it’s worth speaking to them as they may still grant you paid time off.

If you need further time off, you may have to ask your employer if you can use annual leave or parental leave to cover this period. If you feel you are not well enough to work you should notify your employer and speak with your GP.

Who is a dependant?

A “dependant” could be your spouse, partner, child, parent, someone who lives in the same household as you (excluding tenants, lodgers and boarders), or some other person who depends on you for care.

When does the right arise?

Your right to time off arises if:

  • you need to assist a dependant who falls ill, gives birth, or is injured or assaulted;

  • you need to make arrangements for an ill or injured dependant;

  • you need to take action when a dependant dies;

  • you need to deal with unexpected disruption or breakdown  of the dependant’s care arrangements;

  • your child is involved in an incident at school.

How much time can be taken off?

The right is to a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to take action which is ‘necessary’ in order to deal with the unexpected or sudden events listed above. What is ‘necessary’ will depend on the circumstances of each case. 

In terms of the amount of time off: again, what is ‘reasonable’ will depend upon the nature of the incident and the employee's individual circumstances.  There is guidance to suggest that whilst each situation will need to be assessed on its own merits, one or possibly two days at most may well be enough to deal with any particular situation. 

If you know you will need to take the time off in advance, for example, your child has a hospital appointment, this will not be classed as an emergency.  You will need to book annual leave or parental leave inst.

Is dependant’s leave paid?

Your employer may pay you if you do take time off in relation to any of the above, but they don’t have to. Your contract of employment, any company handbook or intranet, may set out your employer’s policy if they have one.

What if a dependant dies?

If the dependant is your child and they were under the age of 18 then you will be eligible to take Parental Bereavement Leave (see below).  In all other cases you have the right to reasonable unpaid time off if a dependant dies. This is limited to time necessary to deal with logistical matters, e.g. arranging and attending the funeral, 

What if your employer doesn’t let you take time off?

If your employer denies you time off for a dependant, you may want to raise a grievance and, in certain circumstances, you may have the right to make an employment tribunal claim (but strict time limits and procedural rules apply). You are protected from dismissal or detriment for exercising your right to such leave. If you need assistance or advice with this, contact the Which? Legal team today.

Parental bereavement leave and pay - if a child dies:

Since 6 April 2020, eligible parents have a right to two weeks off if their child dies under the age of 18, or are stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy ( ‘Parental Bereavement Leave’). 

Eligible parents are employees who are either: the biological parent, adoptive parent, the person who lived with the child and had responsibility for them for at least four weeks before they died, the legal parent through surrogacy, or the partner of the child’s parent if they live with the child and the child’s parent in an enduring family relationship. 

The leave can be one week, two consecutive weeks, or two separate weeks, and can start on any day of the week. It must be taken within 56 weeks after the death or stillbirth of the child.

What notice do I need to give my employer to take parental bereavement leave?

For leave starting within the first 56 days (eight weeks) starting with the date of child’s death the notice period is minimal. You must notify your employer before the time you are due to start work on the day you want the leave to start. If this is not practicable, you must notify them as soon as is reasonably practicable.  If you want to take leave after the first eight weeks, you will need to give your employer at least seven days’ notice.

When notifying your employer that you intend to take parental bereavement leave you will need to tell them: the date of C’s death; the date you want the leave to start, and whether you intend that period to be one or two weeks.

Parental bereavement pay:

There's no right for you to be paid unless you are eligible for parental bereavement pay. Employees have a right to two weeks statutory parental bereavement pay if they were employed when their child died, they had worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks on the Saturday before their child’s death/stillbirth, and they earn on average at least £120 per week before tax. 

Eligible employers and workers will get either £151.20 per week or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is the lower. 

Some employers may offer enhanced bereavement pay.

You must give your employer notice to receive this, within 28 days of starting leave.

What about other entitlements to leave and pay?

Your entitlement to maternity leave and pay is not affected if your child has died or been stillborn. You can take maternity leave in addition to parental bereavement leave.

If you have adopted a child or are an intended parent under a surrogacy arrangement you may be entitled to adoption leave. Again, this is in addition to your right to parental bereavement leave.

You may be entitled to paternity leave and pay as a result of the birth of a child (including a birth to a surrogate mother), or the placement of a child with you for adoption. Paternity leave can be taken in addition to parental bereavement leave.

Your employer may have enhanced policies, explaining your entitlement to take any applicable leave and what pay you will receive.

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