Employees with caring responsibilities are entitled to take 'dependants leave' when a child is ill, but employers should keep extensive records of when they are absent
Employers should familiarise themselves with the recent judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Qua v John Ford Morrison, Solicitors, 2003, EAT/884/01. The decision sheds some welcome light on the amount of time an employee may take as unpaid 'dependants leave' when a child is ill, and reminds employers of the need to keep detailed notes of the telephone conversation when an employee calls in to say that they will not be able to attend work.
Dependants leave is unpaid time off work to deal with certain unexpected emergencies involving someone who depends on the employee. Employees who are dismissed for taking dependents leave are deemed to have been automatically unfairly dismissed.
This protection is available for most employees, from day one of their job, including those on fixed-term contracts and part-timers, but not to the self-employed.
To benefit from this right, employees must inform their employer as soon as practicable of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be off work. It is not necessary for the employee to give this notice in writing.
The Qua tribunal
The Qua decision was helpful because it made clear that the purpose of the right is generally to enable employees to arrange care, not to provide it - other than on, perhaps, the first day when a child falls ill and there is no alternative.
It also confirmed that once the employee gives the initial notification to their employer, there is no continuing duty to notify. The employment tribunal had suggested there was a continuing duty on an employee to update the employer as to their situation on a daily basis.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that the protection only applies where the employee has taken "a reasonable amount of time off". It refused to set down limits on what was reasonable, but said that in the vast majority of cases, it only means hours, or a day or two at most.
Of concern for employers may be the EAT's statement that disruption or inconvenience caused to the employer's business are irrelevant factors that should not be taken into account when considering whether the leave was reasonable.
Of more comfort, however, m