Q What does the right to time off for dependants actually cover?
A Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, section 57A, employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off during working hours to take action that is necessary:
- 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
- in consequence of the death of a dependant
- because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the dependant’s care
- to deal with an incident involving the employee’s child that occurs unexpectedly during school hours.
Q Is the time off paid?
A Employees have no statutory right to be paid for time off for dependants. Whether or not they are paid will depend on the employer’s discretion, or the terms of the contract.
Q For these purposes, who is a dependant?
A A dependant is an employee’s spouse, child or parent or another person who lives in the same house as the employee other than as a tenant, boarder, lodger or employee. In addition, in cases of illness, injury or assault, or where care arrangements break down, it includes anyone who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance or for the provision of care.
Q What requirements are there on an employee to inform the employer that they are taking time off for dependants?
A The employee is required to inform the employer as soon as is reasonably practicable of the reason for their absence. The employee must also tell the employer for how long they expect to be absent. However, as the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held in Qua v John Ford Morrison Solicitors  IRLR 184 EAT, they are not required to provide daily updates on situations involving more than one day’s absence.
There may be exceptional circumstances where the employee returns to work before they are able to contact the employer regarding the absence, but they should inform the employer of the reason for the absence on their return.
There is no obligation for the reason of the absence to be articulated with any formality. In Truelove v Safeway Stores plc EAT/0295/04, the EAT concluded that all that needed to be communicated was sufficient information for the employer to understand that something had occurred to cause a care arrangement to break down, and had made the employee’s absence from work necessary.
Q Does it include time off work to care for a sick child?
A The DTI guidance on the subject states that if an employee’s child comes down with chicken pox, for example, it is envisaged that time off for dependants will cover time to deal with the immediate care of the child, including visiting the doctor if necessary, as well as time to make longer-term care arrangements. The right will not entitle the employee to time off to look after the child until they recover.
In Qua v John Ford Morrison Solicitors, the EAT emphasised that the right to time off for dependants does not include the right to time off to provide care beyond a reasonable amount necessary to deal with the immediate crisis.
Q Does it include sickness absence caused by grief?
A No. In Forster v Cartwright Black  IRLR 781 EAT, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that grief-induced sickness absence is not time off that is necessary ‘in consequence of the death of a dependant’.
The phrase extends only to such matters as time off to make funeral arrangements, register the death and apply for probate.
Q What protection is there for employees with regard to time off for dependants?
A An employee can present a claim if their employer has unreasonably refused to give them time off to care for dependants.
They also have the right not to dismissed or subjected to any detriment for exercising their right to time off for dependants. No qualifying period of employment is necessary to pursue a claim of unfair dismissal in these circumstances.