Time off for dependants – what you need to know

Jul 25, 2022 | Time Off Work

Most employers will have had employees who have needed to take time off in a family emergency or similar, whether it’s for childcare breakdown, illness or something else. But how much do you know about your employees’ statutory entitlement to time off for this type of thing?

Here are some of the key things you need to know to ensure you manage emergency dependants’ leave fairly.

Who is entitled to emergency dependants’ leave?

Unlike many other types of leave, there is no service requirement for emergency dependants’ leave – employees are entitled to it from day one of their employment.

What counts as a dependant?

A dependant can be a spouse or partner, child, other person who lives with them or parent, but could also go wider than that to include someone who relies on the employee for assistance. So you may find an employee taking time off to assist an elderly neighbour or similar.

What counts as an emergency?

There are specific examples listed in legislation to guide you in this area as follows:

  • providing assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted;
  • making arrangements to provide care to a dependant who is ill or injured;
  • dealing with the death of a dependant;
  • dealing with the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant; or
  • dealing with an incident involving the employee’s child during school hours


In all of those circumstances, the key is that the situation must be an unforeseen emergency. So being called by the school for something that has just happened is an emergency, while providing childcare during half term or a pre-notified school closure day is not.

How much time can employees take off each time?

There is no specific limit, as obviously what is needed might vary according to the circumstances, however the entitlement is to time to deal with the emergency itself, not to deal with any ongoing problem which results from the emergency.

So for example, if an employee gets called by their child’s school or childcare to say the child is ill and needs collecting, then that is an emergency. If the child then needs to stay away from school or childcare for a period of time due to the illness, that is no longer an emergency, and the employee is required to make alternative arrangements for longer term care. Usually a day or two for emergency leave would be appropriate.

How often can they take emergency leave?

Again there is no specific limit, so it’s not a case of saying to your employee they’ve had too much and therefore can’t take leave – if there’s an emergency there’s an emergency.

However if you have reason to believe the employee is taking time when there isn’t a genuine emergency, or has other options but is choosing not to use them, you can raise your concerns.

A frequent example of this is where one partner earns more than the other, so the couple between them decide that the higher earners job is “more important”, and leave the lower earner to take all the dependants leave. Needless to say, that often means women take more leave than men.

But obviously the burden isn’t falling just on the employee, it’s falling on the employer as well, and just because your employee may earn less than their partner, doesn’t mean you as the employer should take a higher burden in relation to emergency time off. So if you think that is happening, it’s fine to raise it.

What happens if they can’t make alternative arrangements?

Sometimes it may be that an employee’s child falls ill and they can’t make alternative arrangements for ongoing care once the emergency stage has passed. In those circumstances you may want to consider allowing the employee to take unpaid leave or annual leave, but you may wish to satisfy yourself beforehand that the employee had done everything possible, and was ensuring their partner was also taking some time off if applicable.

Similarly, although it’s reasonable to expect both parents’ employers to take a fair share of the burden of absence, sometimes this just isn’t realistic. If your employee is a single parent and the other parent isn’t around, and there is no extended family, with the best will in the world they are going to have to shoulder it all, so you’d want to be more understanding in those circumstances.


If you would need any further advice on employees taking time off for dependants, do get in touch.