Family Emergency Examples & Requesting Dependants Leave

Sometimes, things happen in life that throw all thoughts of work to the back of our minds. When there is a family emergency, it is hard to think of anything else.

It is important though, to understand your rights regarding dependents leave. There may come a time when you need to consider time off for personal reasons.

Knowing what situations would justify a request for dependents leave may be necessary during your work life.

It’s also vital to undertand who counts as family and dependants to qualify for leave. Whether you have woken up to a family crisis or just need a day off, our guide explains it all.

About Taking Time off for Family Emergencies – Dependants Leave

Employees have rights when they need to take time off in the event of family emergencies.

These rights are laid out in The Employment Rights Act 1996. The act states that employees have the statutory right to unpaid time off in the case of emergencies involving their dependants. This does not include pre planned situations such as an operation.

Your contract will set out how the need to take time off for family emergencies should be reported. Failure to report a family emergency through the appropriate channels could lead to problems.

There is no legal obligation for dependants leave to be paid. When taking time off to care for someone else, you do not qualify for statutory sick pay.

Who Qualifies as a Dependant for Family Emergencies?

You must be clear on the definition of a dependant in terms of the Employment Rights Act.

Examples of who can be included as a dependant for the purposes of statutory leave includes:-

  • Spouse
  • Civil partner
  • Unmarried partner
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Anyone who relies on you as a carer.
  • Anyone living in your household. Not including tenants.
  • Anyone who has you as their only contact in an emergency, such as an elderly neighbour.

How Much Time Can Be Taken Off?

There is no set limit to how much time can be taken off for compassionate leave.

UK laws state that reasonable time should be allowed to deal with emergencies. The time off should be considered necessary. Your employer will consider a few factors when taking into account how much time is considered reasonable. This should not be influenced by staff shortages or other impacts of work.

In some situations, it may be impossible to give a time frame for your dependant’s leave. It may be a case of taking it day by day or week by week. As long as you keep your boss well informed then this is acceptable.

You should check your contract as there may be a clause in there regarding dependents or compassionate leave. Sometimes, employers may have their own set of terms and conditions which may be more generous than statutory guidance.

What Is A Reasonable Length of Time For Compassionate Leave?

Every situation will be different so this is why the wording is quite ambiguous when it comes to the length of compassionate leave.

Some things that can determine what is a reasonable period include:-

  • The family set up, e.g lone parent or two parents.
  • Nature of the crisis.
  • Is this the first time you’ve needed compassionate leave?
  • If you have taken compassionate leave before, how long and is this a recurring situation?
  • Are there other people to help or is it solely down to you?
  • Have all other avenues been explored, leaving dependents to leave as the only option?

The employer should consider your circumstances and discuss possible time frames with you. They cannot base the time off on logistics such as rotas – they need to be impartial about it.

Family Emergency Examples

To qualify for statutory leave due to a family emergency your situation must fall into a specific category.

This means that if your situation doesn’t fall into one of these categories then your employer may refuse your request.

An emergency would be one of the following situations:

  • Illness (physical or mental)
  • Injury
  • Assault
  • Having a baby.
  • Normal care arrangements have fallen through. (e.g childminder).
  • The child becomes unwell during the day.
  • School need you to collect for another reason.
  • Death of a dependent.

You can’t request dependants leave for predictable events. For example, appointments for pre existing medical conditions.

An emergency, by its very definition, means something that has come up unexpectedly and without warning. An appointment may be granted as an absence under the umbrella of ‘parental leave’.

How to Call in Sick for a Family Emergency

Calling in sick can be daunting whatever the reason for it. More so when you are already stressed out due to a family crisis.

Sometimes, preparing what to say in advance can help you remain calm and focused. Just make sure you are using the correct protocol for ringing in sick. If you are in doubt then check your contract first.

Be factual with what you say without any additional fluff – your employer just needs the main details. Keep the conversation short, and simple and stay professional. Don’t be afraid to mention your right to dependents’ leave as per the statutory requirements. Some employers may not have dealt with this before.

It is also important to make it clear you are taking this time off as dependants leave. It is not a case of asking for permission, this comes under your employee rights. 

Make sure you let your boss know as soon as reasonably possible – this is a condition of being honoured with compassionate leave. You should also be able to give a rough idea of how long you expect to be absent.

What To Say To Your Boss

Here is an example of what to say when you need to have some time off for a family emergency.

Remember; to keep calm, keep the conversation short and to the point and make it clear you understand your rights.

Hi there, it’s (your name) here.

I am ringing to let you know that unfortunately, I will not be making it in today. My mother in law has had a bad fall and with my husband away, there is no one else to help her. I am not sure at this stage how long I will need off but I will, of course, keep you updated regularly.

I will be taking this absence as dependents’ leave. Please let me know if there is anything you need me to sign or fill in.

I estimate I will be off for at least (insert days) but I will confirm this ASAP.

Is Leave for an Emergency Paid?

There is no legal requirement for your employer to pay you for any time off you need in an emergency.

This absence can be granted as unpaid as per UK Employment Law. However, it is worth checking your contract in case your employer does offer something for compassionate leave.

You can ask your employer if it would be possible to make the time up or take the absence as a holiday. They do not have to agree to this and likewise, they cannot force you to either.

Can an Employer Ask For Proof of a Family Emergency?

When you have made it known that you require time off to deal with a family emergency, it is important to understand your rights.

Your boss should not:

  • Treat you unfairly or differently after needing the time off.
  • Threaten to sack you for taking compassionate leave.
  • Make you redundant based on your time off for the emergency.
  • Refuse you of the time off.

It is also worth noting whether or not your employer can ask for proof of the emergency. The simple answer is no, they cannot request written proof of the situation.

It is important to be aware of this at this stressful time so you aren’t put under any undue pressure.

Can an Employer Refuse Leave for An Emergency?

You have requested time off as emergency leave and your boss has declined it. What now?

Legally, your boss cannot refuse dependants leave, so if your leave has been refused it must be on the grounds that the reason you have given does not fit into the criteria. You cannot take time off for a medical appointment as emergency leave. It was pre arranged, therefore not an emergency.

Should your boss decline your request and it does come under emergency leave then you should seek advice. You can approach HR or someone outside of the work environment such as ACAS.

See Also: What happens if you can’t work due to not having childcare?


Can you get fired for a family emergency?

You cannot be fired as a direct result of a family emergency and need some time off. This cannot be the reason for dismissal. Should the time off be frequent and have an impact on the workplace, then it may be necessary to attend a meeting to discuss this.

Is death a family emergency?

The death of a dependant falls under the concept of a family emergency. This will often be granted as compassionate or bereavement leave.

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