Is my employee entitled to time off to deal with an emergency?

The scenario
You have an employee who has asked for time off to deal with a family emergency. His father has been taken ill and rushed to hospital. As the only child, it falls on him to not only look after his elderly father’s medical needs, but also ensure his mother, who has dementia, remains safe at home whilst his father, her main carer, is in hospital.

 

The dilemma
He’s a key member of staff and you can’t really do without him on such short notice, but you want to be a sympathetic employer.
 
The legal position
All employees are allowed (unpaid) time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant. A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or anyone who depends on them for care.
The length of time allowed is not stipulated but should be long enough to deal with the emergency. For example, in this case, it might be to arrange alternative care for his mother, or to transport his father to hospital, rather than provide the care himself.
See https://www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants for more detailed information.

 

A solution
I say ‘a’ solution as there is more than one. However, here’s one option:
Speak to your employee and listen to their needs. Do they need (or want) to take entire days off or is there a certain time of a day when they may be needed? For example, at hospital visiting times.
There’s nothing to say you can’t offer more than is required in law. If you’re able, try to reach flexible agreement in the short term so they can support their parents.

 

Whatever you agree:
·       Confirm the agreement in writing, especially if it is to last longer than a couple days, along with when the arrangement will end.
·       Consider how you deal with other similar situations across the organisation, so your approach is consistent.

 

Alternatively, why not consider:
·       Offering a flexible arrangement to taking paid annual leave to cover the time off.
·       Taking part days instead of full days
·       Converting holiday into hours to be used.
·       Offer a set number of days or hours as compassionate leave per year to deal with emergencies.
Always check your own company policies in dealing with such requests. You’ll be criticised if you don’t follow your own procedure and this could lead to a claim in employment tribunal.

 

Remember!
The main thing to consider is – have you been a reasonable employer? A large employer is more likely to be able to offer such time off than a small employer with limited resources.

Always remember to keep a written note of what you agreed and records of the time off.
 
At Moss HR, we recommend the Breathe HR system as a way of recording and monitoring staff absence. Please ask for more details.
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