Find out more about your entitlement to time off for work for dependants or compassionate leave

Trying to balance work life and family life can sometimes be a struggle day to day, but even more so in the event of a family emergency, illness or bereavement.  For many working parents being able to access support to help them achieve the right balance is very important and can be a factor in choosing a particular job, employer or career path. There are a number of initiatives that have been designed to help working parents manage their work and family responsibilities, including flexible working, parental leave and, time off for dependants or dependants leave, which is the focus of this article.

Time off for dependants

Time off for dependants can also be referred to as ‘compassionate leave’. If you are an employee, you have the right to take time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependant, regardless of your length of service. Usually, this would be your husband, wife, partner, child, parent, or someone who lives in your household as a member of the family. However, a dependant may also be anyone who reasonably relies on you for help in an emergency, for example an elderly neighbour. The emergency might be:

  • a dependant falling ill
  • a dependant having been injured or assaulted
  • a dependant having a baby
  • problems with a dependant’s care arrangements
  • unexpected incidents involving children at school
  • the death of a dependant.

Is time off for dependants paid?

Time off for dependants is usually unpaid. However, some employers may enhance the statutory entitlement and make payments at their discretion. This will depend on your terms and conditions of employment. Whilst you are on unpaid leave you might be eligible for certain benefits, such as Universal Credit, depending on your circumstances.

How much time off for dependants can I take?

No set period is defined, but it should be ‘reasonable’. In most instances, one or two days should be enough time to deal with the emergency that has arisen. There is no limit on the number of times you can take time off for dependants provided it is being taken in order to deal with genuine emergencies. You should try to keep your employer up to date with the situation, as far as possible. For example, if you need more time off than you expected you should let your employer know. If your employer feels that you are taking more time off than they can reasonably cope with, they should advise you of this and you should try to resolve the issue.

When does the right to time off not apply?

You don’t have the right to time off for every problem, for example, a burst boiler at home does not count as there is no ‘dependant’. Additionally, time off to care for people who don’t count as dependants would not be covered. Your employer can still choose to allow you time off if they wish, or you could take the time out of some of your paid annual leave. If it happens regularly, it may be more useful to consider using a flexible working arrangement.

Additionally, the right to time off for dependants only covers emergencies and so doesn’t apply if you know about an event in advance. For example, if you want time off to take your child into hospital in a week’s time the right doesn’t apply, although you may be able to take it as parental leave instead.

Parental Bereavement Leave

Parental Bereavement Leave and Pay are not currently available in Northern Ireland, however legislation is currently passing through the Northern Ireland Assembly to bring Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. Read more about this here.

From 6 April 2020, all employed parents in England, Wales and Scotland have the right to two weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18, or suffer a stillbirth after 24 weeks of pregnancy, irrespective of their length of service. Employed parents may also qualify for two weeks’ Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay (SPBP). Leave is taken in a single block or two blocks of one week within the 56 weeks following the child’s death. To qualify for SPBP, an employee must have at least 26 weeks’ continuous service and weekly average earnings over the lower earnings limit (currently £120 per week), for the eight weeks before the death. The rate of pay is either the statutory rate (currently £151.97) or 90% of average weekly earnings – whichever is lower.

Can foster parents and other guardians get time off for dependants?

Foster parents and carers who do not have formal, legal parental responsibility, can also avail of time off for dependants. They can also, in some cases, qualify for parental bereavement leave (pending legislation) and the right to request flexible working but do not qualify for parental leave.

Protection for employees who take time off for dependants

Some parents may have concerns that legitimately taking time off in this manner may not be looked upon favourably by their employer, but there are some protections in place for these circumstances. An employee who takes time off for dependants should not:

  • be subject to detrimental treatment for taking emergency time off
  • be dismissed – or selected for redundancy – because they took, or sought to take, emergency leave.

If an employee believes that they have been treated unfairly or dismissed in these circumstances, they may take a claim of detrimental treatment or unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal – regardless of their length of service.

Further information regarding parental leave and other family friendly initiatives is available in the downloads section of our website, where we have a suite of useful factsheets and guides.

For further information or advice on dependants leave or any other entitlements for parents and families, please call our Family Benefits Advice Service on 028 9267 8200.