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Taking Time Off for Emergency Leave

All employees have a legal right to take emergency leave from work to care for family and dependants. Check out some reasons for taking emergency leave and how much time you can take off.

WHAT ARE YOUR RIGHTS? Your employer cannot refuse you taking time off work for family reasons (e.g. a crisis that involves a dependant).

For emergency leave, a dependant can be a spouse, a partner, a child, grandchild, or a parent. It may also be a person who depends on you for their care.

How many Days Off for Emergency Leave?

As a rule, you can take a ‘reasonable amount of time off’ for dealing with emergencies.

But, individual situations determine how long you can be absent from work. There is no set amount of time written in statute.

Likewise, UK employment legislation does not set any limits on how many times you can take time off for family and dependants. But, your employer might discuss the matter with you if they feel your time off is affecting your job or work tasks.

An Example: Your child becomes ill and you take time off work to take your child to the doctor. You make some care arrangements and then return to work. This would be taking a reasonable amount of time off for emergency reasons.

But, you may get asked to take annual leave or parental leave if you choose to take more time off to care for your child.

Note: It is important to discuss absenteeism with your employer as soon as you can. Inform them how much time away from work you need so they can try to agree it.

Emergency Leave and Pay

Employers can choose to pay employees who take time off to care for dependants. But, the law does not force them to. They may already have some specific rules written about this matter.

There are some exceptions. Knowing about a situation beforehand means you would not qualify for emergency leave. Thus, it would not cover your time off to attend a pre-booked hospital appointment for your child. In this case, you may have entitlement to unpaid parental leave instead.

Note: Check your employment contract, the company handbook, or the intranet site (if applicable). You can also check your employment status in work to see whether you get classed as an ‘employee‘.

Taking Compassionate Leave

What if you do not get time away from work for your dependants? In this case, your employer can offer you time off as ‘compassionate leave’. In emergency situations, compassionate leave can be with pay or taken as unpaid leave.

Reasons for Taking Emergency Leave from Work

As an employee, you should get time off for a dependant with an involvement in emergencies such as these.

Disruption in Care Arrangements

Common reasons to get emergency time off could be if:

  • A nursing home or a child nursery closes unexpectedly.
  • A carer or childminder fails to turn up to look after your dependant.

Children Involved in a School Incident

You might also get time off if your child has problems during school time, such as:

  • The child has an accident or gets involved in a fight.
  • They get suspended from school.
  • The child suffers an injury on a school trip.
Going into Labour (having a baby)

If a dependant goes into labour ‘unexpectedly‘ you could get emergency time off. But, to get urgent leave, they must be relying on you for their visit to the hospital.

Unless it is a crisis, you cannot take emergency leave for dependants after a birth to care for the child. But, the parent of the child could qualify for paternity leave or parental leave.

Assault, Injury, or Illness

Physical or mental illnesses do not have to be a life-threatening situation to require full-time care. Some examples include:

  • Helping a dependant with an existing mental or physical condition that worsens.
  • Comforting a dependant who gets mugged but is not physically hurt.
  • Taking some time off to arrange for longer term care for a sick or injured dependant.

Taking Time Off for Emergencies

Always inform your employer if you need to take time off (as soon as possible). Of course, in some emergencies, this may be difficult to do before leaving work. But, you should keep your employer informed and let them know as soon as it is practical to do so.

Note: It is not necessary to inform your employer in writing or give them written proof of the emergency.

Employment Problems after Taking Time Off

Under no circumstances should an employer:

  • Treat their employees unfairly for taking time off (e.g. refuse training or job promotion).
  • Dismiss employees or choose them for redundancy because they asked for time off to care for a dependant.
  • Refuse any employee a reasonable amount of time off work to care for family and dependants.

There are steps you can take if you feel you received unfair treatment after taking time off for your dependants. Seek expert advice from the staff or trade union representative or you can contact Acas.

Acas Helpline
Telephone: 0300 123 11 00
Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday: 8am to 8pm
Tuesday and Friday: 8am to 6pm
Saturday: 9am to 1pm
Check the cost of phone call charges.

Note: In some severe cases you may also be able to take your particular case to an Employment Tribunal.

Taking Time Off Work for Family Reasons and Emergencies in the United Kingdom