A topic that I get asked about a lot is time off from work when the employee isn’t sick but one of the members of their family is sick; or the carer of their dependent, for example, the child minder is sick.
What time off are employees entitled to in these situations?
Whilst the scenarios I’ve selected are really common the most important aspect in dealing with such requests is that all line managers within the organisation must treat staff the same, with consistent and fair treatment. Sometimes managers treat employee’s requests inconsistently because of their own personal view of that particular absence.
The scenarios are given in bold with my advice underneath:
My child is ill and I need time off to care for him/her. What time off is available?
- Some organisations have additional “carers leave” which is in addition to the annual leave which they are entitled to. Usually such leave needs to be approved by the line manager in advance and it is likely to be restricted; particularly if the leave is paid.
- If there is no carers leave available then the employee has no choice but to use up their own annual leave entitlement or take unpaid holiday. Either way they should discuss the situation with their line manager and get the leave approved.
- Sick leave should not be taken to look after a sick dependent.
What if I need more time off? For example, the nursery won’t allow my child back until 48 hours after they are free from symptoms
- Once again, the option is either to take annual leave or unpaid leave which should ideally be approved in advance.
My elderly dependent relative is ill and I need time off to care for him/her. What time off can I get?
- This would be the same as I’ve outlined above.
What happens if the normal care for my child or elderly relative is cancelled at the last minute e.g. due to illness or inclement weather? What leave can I take in this situation?
Organisations recognise that employees with caring responsibilities cannot always plan ahead for time off and that care arrangements can break down unexpectedly for any number of reasons.
Time off for dependents in these circumstances is a legal right but it is unpaid. By its nature there is no expectation that the employee will give advance notice. The time off permitted is short to enable the employee to make arrangements for the care of the person so by nature it is 24-48 hours. The leave is not an entitlement to care for the dependent.
A Dependant is specified as spouse, partner, or civil partner; a child; a parent; a person living in your house who is not an employee, tenant, lodger or boarder; any other person who would reasonably rely on the employee for assistance if he/she falls ill or is injured or assaulted, or who would rely on you to make arrangements for the provision of care in the event of illness or injury; or, in relation to the disruption or termination of care for a dependant, any other person who reasonably relies on you to make arrangements for the provision of care.
Absence should be notified in the normal way as if the employee is off sick although on return to work there is no need to carry out a return to work interview.
My partner is critically ill in hospital. I need time off. What time off can I get?
- In this situation, some organisations have additional compassionate leave and you should check if this is the case.
- Alternatively, it is likely that either annual leave or unpaid leave would have to be taken.
Other things to consider would be the option of requesting flexible working. For some carers, the opportunities that a flexible working pattern brings would far out-weight any potential loss of salary were they to reduce their hours. There are a number of different ways in which flexible working patterns can help carers – for example, later start times, earlier finish times, compressed hours, part time working. A request for flexible working can be made by any employee with more than 26 weeks service but only one request per 12 months can be made.
The important thing for employees is to be open with their line manager about their situation; and the important thing for line managers is to create a work environment where everyone feels comfortable in discussing these issues and which then enables the manager to be more prepared when such a situation arises; and enables the employee to feel more comfortable about how their request will be handled.