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How to make a Time off for dependants policy

Employees have a statutory right to take time off work to assist their dependants if they’re involved in sudden or unexpected emergency situations. Use this time off for dependants policy template to create a policy setting out your business’ approach to ensuring that this entitlement is upheld in your workplace.

Recently reviewed by Lauren Delin, Solicitor. 

This time off for dependants policy was last reviewed on 19 June 2022.

Use this time off for dependants policy if: 

  • you run a business (or other organisation) which employs people

  • you want to set out procedures for employees taking time off to assist their dependants in emergencies

  • your business is based in England, Wales or Scotland

This time off for dependants policy template covers:

  • the statutory entitlement to time off for dependants

  • any enhanced entitlements offered to workers

  • what constitutes an ‘emergency’, a ‘dependant’ and an ‘employee’

  • pay provisions during time off for dependants

  • the interaction between time off for dependants and other types of leave, including: 

    • unpaid parental leave

    • statutory parental bereavement leave

    • compassionate leave

    • annual leave

  • procedures for requesting time off work

  • what happens if an employee abuses the provisions in your time off for dependants policy

  • employees’ rights while taking time off for dependants

A time off for dependants policy is a document that sets out a business’ (or other organisation’s) approach to employees’ statutory right to take time off to assist their dependants in emergencies. As a policy document, it is not a binding contract between the employer and its workers. It does, however, set out how the employer will abide by the relevant statutory requirements which are compulsory.

Employees are entitled to take time off for dependants. This is the case regardless of whether you have a time off for dependants policy in place. However, having a policy in place can help you to ensure everyone is on the same page about the procedures you would prefer them to follow when requesting and taking time off for dependants. 

A time off for dependants policy also helps you to demonstrate your awareness of and adherence to the statutory entitlement. Moreover, you can use this time off for dependants policy to offer enhanced entitlements that you want staff to benefit from, such as: 

Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off work when it is necessary to enable them to take action to assist one of their dependants with an unexpected or sudden emergency. This is known as taking ‘time off for dependants’. 

The entitlement allows employees time off to:

  • provide dependants with immediate assistance (eg by picking up a child from school or going to a hospital to support a spouse who has been injured) 

  • make ongoing arrangements for a dependant’s support (eg by arranging a new carer for them)

The entitlement does not extend to allowing employees time off work to provide long-term assistance (eg an employee cannot use it to become a carer themselves).

There is no defined amount of time that an employee can take off for dependants, they are simply entitled to what is ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances. The circumstances considered may include the frequency and length of any previous time that an employee has taken off for similar emergencies.

A dependant for whom time can be taken off must be one of the following to the relevant employee:

  • their child

  • their spouse or civil partner

  • their parent

  • somebody who lives in their household (excluding tenants, lodgers, boarders or people that they employ)

  • somebody who reasonably relies on them for assistance or to make arrangements if they become ill, give birth, or are injured or assaulted (eg an elderly neighbour or a relative who doesn’t live with them). This only applies when the relevant emergency is one of these situations (ie the dependant is ill, giving birth, injured or assaulted)

  • somebody who relies on them to make their care arrangements. This only applies when the relevant emergency involves an interruption to their care arrangements

An ‘emergency’ for which employees can take time off for dependants can be any situation which reasonably requires the employee to:

  • assist or arrange care for a dependant who has become ill (including psychological illness). This includes situations where the dependant has an existing medical condition which has gotten worse

  • assist or arrange care for a dependant who has become injured (including psychological injury). This includes situations where the dependant has an existing injury which has gotten worse

  • assist or arrange care for a dependant who has been assaulted (including situations where the dependant has not been physically injured during the assault)

  • assist a dependant who is unexpectedly giving birth (eg if they have gone into labour early)

  • deal with a dependant’s death

  • deal with an unexpected interruption to a dependant’s care arrangements (eg a child or elderly relative)

  • deal with an unexpected incident involving their dependant child, which has occurred during school hours (ie when a school or other educational establishment is responsible for them). For example, if the employee’s child has been suspended from school or has been injured whilst on a school trip

A situation can still count as an emergency if it has not occurred suddenly. For instance, if an employee learns that there will be an unexpected interruption to their dependant’s care arrangements in 5 days’ time and they attempt but fail to make new arrangements within those 5 days. The employee will then need to take time off to care for the dependant temporarily while making new care arrangements.

For more information, read the Government’s guidance and Managing employee absenteeism.

The statutory entitlement to time off for dependants only applies to individuals working for you who have formal employee status (ie they work for you under an employment contract and have the full benefit of employment laws). For more information, read Consultants, workers and employees.

There is no legal entitlement for employees to be paid during time off for dependants. It is entirely up to you as an employer whether you wish to pay employees during time off for dependants.  

If you choose to do so, you may want to impose a limit on how many days of time off for dependants employees will be paid for.

All of an employee’s regular employment rights continue to apply whilst they are taking time off for dependants. 

Importantly, this includes their right not to be subjected to detriment for requesting or taking time off for dependants. In practice, you can ensure you uphold this right by: 

  • not dismissing employees or selecting them for redundancy because they’ve taken time off for dependants

  • not denying employees access to benefits (eg promotions) and opportunities because they took time off for dependants

Creating an Equal opportunities policy can help you ensure that you always treat all employees fairly and equally.

If an emergency occurs which qualifies an employee for time off for dependants, they may also be entitled to other kinds of leave following either statutory entitlements, your business’ employment policies, or employees’ individual employment contracts. Related types of leave that employees may be entitled to include: 

Employees may be eligible for pay during one of these types of leave. If you make provisions for employees to be paid during time off for dependants, you may decide that they should not receive this pay if they’re also eligible for pay for a different kind of leave. You can set this out in this time off for dependants policy.

The only procedural requirements that you can require employees to adhere to are the ‘notification requirements’. The notification requirements require that employees: 

  • tell their employer as soon as reasonably practicable of their need to take time off for a dependant, and 

  • tell their employer, wherever possible, how long they expect to be absent for

Bear in mind that, in some circumstances, it won’t be reasonably practicable for an employee to inform their employer of their absence before leaving work (eg in the case of a time-sensitive medical emergency involving a dependant). This is acceptable under the notification requirements, and employees should not be subjected to detriment for doing this. 

You may ask employees to follow other steps when requesting time off for dependants, but you cannot make them comply (eg by subjecting them to detriment if they don’t comply or by denying them time off for dependants). Such steps could include, for example, ringing their line manager or requesting time off via an online HR portal.

Ask a lawyer for advice if:

  • you want to offer employees more generous provisions (eg you want to allow employees more time off than legally required in some situations)

  • you want advice on how to ensure you don’t expose employees to detriment during their time off for dependants

  • you don’t think an employee’s situation meets the criteria for time off for dependants, but you’re unsure

Other names for a Time off for dependants policy

Time off for dependants statement, Dependants leave policy, Dependants’ leave policy, Time off for dependants procedure.

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