Employees have a statutory right to time off work in certain situations to care for family or to deal with emergencies. As an employer you should be aware of when these apply.

In any given situation an employee may be entitled to take a number of different types of leave and in addition may wish to combine this with some of their annual holiday entitlement.

Situations where time off work can be taken

Ante natal appointments – All employees, no matter how long they have worked for you or how many hours a week they work are entitled to PAID time off during working hours to receive antenatal care.  This mainly covers medical appointments but may extend to classes if recommended by a registered medical practitioner or midwife.

Time off to accompany a woman to an antenatal appointment – Employees who have a “qualifying relationship” to a pregnant woman or her expected child are entitled to take time off during working hours to accompany the woman to up to 2 antenatal appointments lasting up to 6 and half hours each. There is no right for this time off to be paid so any payment is at the employer’s discretion.

Adoption appointments – an employee or agency worker who is planning to adopt either on their own or jointly with another person is entitled to time off to attend adoption appointments.  Where they are joint adopters the right is for one of the couple to elect to take paid time off to attend 5 appointments and for the other one to take unpaid time off to attend 2 appointments.

 Maternity leave – All employees, regardless of length of service, are entitled to take 52 weeks statutory maternity leave which is made up of 26 weeks Ordinary Maternity Leave and a further 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave.

Adoption leave – Qualifying employees are entitled to take 52 weeks statutory maternity leave which is made up of 26 weeks Ordinary Adoption Leave and a further 26 weeks Additional Adoption Leave.

Shared parental leave – The law allows parents to be flexible about the way they care for a child in the first year of life by enabling them to share up to 50 weeks parental leave between them.  The aim is to the enable more women to stay in the workplace and for parents to be able to make arrangements for caring for their child that suit them.  The default position is that a child’s mother is entitled to 52 maternity leave. If parents opt in to the Shared Parental Leave scheme then they are able to share 50 weeks of this leave between them.

 Paternity leave – Eligible employees are entitled to take paternity leave.  This is 1 or 2 weeks consecutive leave that can be taken following the birth of a child but must be taken before the child is 56 days old.

 Time off for dependants – Employees have the right to take “reasonable” time off to deal with particular situations involving their dependents.  The right is to take unpaid time off.  The right extends to employees but not other workers or the self-employed.  The right applies to all employees (both male and female) regardless of how long they have worked for you and whether they are part-time, full time, temporary or permanent.

The right is to take “reasonable” time off where it is “necessary”:

    1. To provide assistance if a dependent falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted;
    2. To make care arrangements for the care of a dependent who is ill or injured – the right is to time off to deal with the immediate crisis not to provide longer term care for the dependent personally;
    3. In consequence of the death of a dependent. This is a right to deal with immediate logistical matters rather than a right to compassionate leave;
    4. To deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependent e.g. time off to arrange cover where a child’s nanny is ill;
    5. To deal with an unexpected incident which involves the employee’s child during school hours.

Time taken off to deal with other domestic emergencies such as a water leak or a planned doctor’s appointment for a child is NOT covered by the statutory right to time off. Such additional time off should be covered in the company’s leave policy or agreed on an individual basis with an employee as the need arises.

A “dependent” is a spouse, civil partner, child or parent of the employee or someone who lives in the same house as them but who is not their lodger, tenant or employee.  In addition for the purposes of 1 and 2 above a dependent is someone who reasonably relies on the employee for such assistance e.g. an employee’s sister or elderly aunt. For the purposes of 4 a dependent includes someone who relies on the employee for assistance if ill or injured or to make care arrangements for them and could cover, for example, an elderly neighbour who has a fall and the employee is closest to hand.

What is “necessary” will depend on the circumstances of the situation.  What is a “reasonable” amount of time off is also undefined.  However, in most cases it will be no more than a few hours or a couple of days at most.

You should have a policy which clearly sets out the right to take time off for dependents. This should explain that the employee must tell you, as soon as reasonably practicable, the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be absent. Oral evidence is sufficient. You will need enough information to be able to work out whether the statutory right to time off applies.  You should make clear that any abuse of the right may lead to disciplinary action being taken against the employee.  The right is to unpaid time off only.  If you decide to pay the employee then you may include additional conditions and notification requirements.

Compassionate leave – there is no statutory right to take compassionate leave.  Your company handbook may include a right to paid or unpaid compassionate leave or you may agree this with an employee on an individual basis when the need arises.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.