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My employee keeps taking time off to look after her children – What are my options?

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If you run a business you will frequently be faced with the problem of your employees ringing in to say that they will be late in; not arriving at all; or asking to leave work early due to an emergency.

What should you do in these circumstances and when can you legitimately refuse such request?

The first thing that you need to be aware of is that an employee has a statutory right to take time off to look after a dependant, but this is usually where the confusion begins. Most employers assume wrongly, particularly if it involves a child, that they must grant the leave and many employers continue to pay their employees when they are off under these circumstances.

It is important to understand that whilst there is a legal right for time off to look after a dependant, this right only relates to emergencies involving a dependant. There are specific rules surrounding when such leave should be granted.

Time off for dependents does not cover every situation where any employee requests time off to deal with a personal or family issue. It is specific in that it only covers ‘unforeseen matters’ and ‘emergency situations’. It is generally for situations which are unplanned or which need immediate attention such as:

  • Dealing with a breakdown in childcare.
  • Putting longer term care plans in place for children or elderly relatives.
  • Dealing with issues relating to a dependant falling ill or being taken into hospital.
  • The need to arrange or attend a funeral.

It does not cover situations such as burst pipes, sick pets, staying in to have the meter read, etc.

A dependant is someone who depends on an employee for care e.g. a spouse, partner, child, parent or someone who depends on an employee for care, for example, an elderly neighbour.

Unless your contract provides otherwise, time off for dependents leave is unpaid.

Employees are entitled to a reasonable time off to deal with dependant related emergencies. The guidelines state that one or two days should be sufficient in order to make longer term arrangements, although you need judge each case on its specific circumstances.

There are no limits to the number of times an employee can use this right. However, the employee must tell you as soon as possible the reason for the absence and how long he or she expects to be absent.

Managing absence issues related to dependents can prove difficult, particularly if the same employee repeatedly requests time off to deal with emergencies. This can prove to be a source of resentment from other members of staff.  It can be difficult for you to decide if the request falls within an employee’s statutory right for time off.

HR:4UK can help you by providing advice on the merits and legal basis of such requests. We can help to ensure that you have an appropriate policy in place, to avoid the risk of receiving grievances from your staff in cases, where you refuse requests.

For further help and advice, speak to one of our advisors by calling 01455 444222 or complete our contact form and an advisor will be in touch shortly.

Angela Clay

A qualified employment law solicitor and our managing director, Angela has unparalleled legal expertise and decades of experience and knowledge to draw from. She’s a passionate speaker and writer that loves to keep employers updated with upcoming changes to legislation, and is a regular guest speaker on BBC Leicester Radio.