Time off work – What are the statutory rights?

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Your employees may need time off work if or when they deal with an emergency.  The Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) implemented a law for this.  It affords employees certain statutory rights when they require time off work.  However, this is in the case of those who are dealing with an emergency involving family and/or dependants.

Section 57A of the ERA confirms that:

(1) An employee is entitled to be permitted by his employer to take a reasonable amount of time off during the employee’s working hours in order to take action which is necessary—

(a) to provide assistance on an occasion when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted.

(b) to make arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured.

       (c) in consequence of the death of a dependant.

(d) because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant or

(e) to deal with an incident which involves a child of the employee and which occurs unexpectedly in a period during which an educational establishment which the child attends is responsible for him.

Who do you class as a dependant?

Your employee’s dependant must be classed under one of the following descriptions, for the statutory right to apply:

  • Spouse or civil partner
  • Child
  • Parent
  • A person who lives in the same household as the employee. Other than by reason of being an employee, tenant, lodger or boarder.
  • Someone who reasonably relies on the employee to make arrangements for the provision of care.
  • A person who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance on an occasion when the person falls ill or is injured or assaulted.
  • A person who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance to make arrangements for the provision of care in the event of illness or injury.

Pre-requisite to the entitlement

As a pre-requisite to the entitlement, your employee must tell you the reason for the required absence “as soon as reasonably practicable”.  No notice of the required amount of time off is therefore needed.  If your employee requests time off work to attend a pre-arranged medical appointment, then the law does not apply.

Your employee has to tell you how long the absence is expected to last. This is in all circumstances.  Except where the reason for absence cannot be complied with until the employee has returned to work.

You do not have to pay employees for any time off taken under this piece of legislation.

The question of what amount of time off is deemed to be “reasonable” will vary with each situation. The best approach is for you and your employees to be in regular communication.  This will ensure that accurate information is given and received by both parties.

You are always well advised to record the length of time off taken. Also the reasons given by your employee for the absence. Usually, if they ask for more than one or two days off to deal with their crisis, it is likely that it will not fall under the definition of an emergency.

Intended for immediate crisis not substantial time off

In 2008, the Employment Appeal Tribunal held that a request was not covered by the statutory right.  This involved a case where the claimant requested one to two months’ leave.  This was to care for his children as a result of a domestic crisis.  The court confirmed that it was intended to cover emergencies, and to enable the employee to deal with an immediate crisis.  It was also to allow time to set up care arrangements. It was not intended to give employees a long time off to care for their dependants themselves.

If you need help in addressing any issues on this subject within your organisation contact ChamberHR on 01455 852037

See also our “Time off during working hours guide” for a range of paid and unpaid time off work.

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