In the case of Ellis v Ratcliff Palfinger Ltd, the Employment Appeal Tribunal decided that it was fair to dismiss an employee who had taken emergency time off but who had not properly notified his employer as soon as he could have.

Employees have a statutory right to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to care for dependants in an emergency. However, the right only applies if the employee informs their employer of the reason for their absence as soon as it is reasonably practicable to do so and if the employee confirms how long they expect to be away from work. If an employee is dismissed because they took or sought to take time off their dismissal will be automatically unfair.

Mr Ellis was already on a final written warning for attendance issues, when he took further time off work. Mr Ellis’ partner was heavily pregnant. On the Sunday and Monday, Mr Ellis took her to hospital several times. Mr Ellis failed to contact his employer, although his father did so on the Monday afternoon. On the Tuesday, Mr Ellis again took his wife to the hospital, although this time she was admitted. Mr Ellis did not attend work and did not contact his employer. On the Wednesday, following a request from his employer, he attended work and was criticised for failing to make contact and for not coming into work. On the Wednesday evening, he left a message on his employer’s answerphone stating he would not be in work the next day.

Mr Ellis subsequently attended a disciplinary hearing. He was dismissed because he had failed to make reasonable efforts to inform his employer he would not be at work. Mr Ellis brought a claim in the Employment Tribunal claiming that his dismissal was automatically unfair because he had been dismissed for taking time off to care for a dependant (his wife).

Mr Ellis’ claim failed at both the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The reason that his claim failed was because Mr Ellis had not told his employer of the reason for his absence as soon as reasonably practicable. This case really does highlight the need for an employee to make such contact, using all possible means at their disposal such as mobile telephones and public payphones, as soon as possible.

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