Occasionally you may need to attend to a family situation, regardless of whether it is planned or an emergency. When that happens, it can be helpful and important to know your rights in relation to taking time off work.

Taking time off work to deal with a family issue

All employees have a legal right to take emergency leave to care for family and dependants. That can include a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care.

Parent taking time off work to care for a sick child

What situations qualify as emergencies?

The typical circumstance is a sudden need to care for a dependent who has been taken ill, injured, or assaulted. It may be that the illness or injury was unexpected, or something unexpected happened to disrupt usual arrangements for care.

Common examples include:

  • a child injured at school or taken seriously ill
  • a relative you care for who has an accident
  • a partner unexpectedly going into labour.

If you are aware of the situation beforehand (e.g. in the case of having to attend a pre-booked appointment) it will not usually qualify as an ‘emergency’.

How much time off work is allowed for emergencies?

There’s no fixed amount of time when it comes to emergency leave. You can take such time as is reasonable to deal with the situation.

Similarly, there are no set rules as to how many times you can take time off to deal with a family emergency. This will depend on the circumstances, and is something you should discuss with your employer.

Is emergency leave paid?

Your first port of call should always be to check your contract of employment and company handbook to see what they say about time off and payment for it. Your employer does not have to pay you unless it says so in your contract or the company rules.

Time off work for compassionate leave

As an employee you also have the right to time off if:

  • A ‘dependant’ dies, e.g. your partner, parent, child, or someone else who relied on you
  • Your child is stillborn or dies under the age of 18.

This may be paid or unpaid depending on the terms of your contract.

The law does not say how much time can be taken off if a dependant dies (unless it’s your child who is under 18). It simply says the amount should be ‘reasonable’.

Employees have a right to two weeks off if their child dies under the age of 18 or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is called Parental Bereavement Leave.

Employee who has taken time off work to seek emergency treatment at a hospital

Parental Bereavement Pay

If you need to take Parental Bereavement Leave, you may be eligible for Parental Bereavement Pay.

You will qualify for two weeks’ Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay if:

  • Your child dies under the age of 18 or is stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy
  • You were employed when your child died
  • You had worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks, on the Saturday before the child’s death
  • You earn on average at least £120 per week, before tax.

Parental leave

Parental leave gives parents the right to take time off work to look after their child, for a reason other than an ‘emergency’. It can be taken any time before your child turns 18, and is unpaid (unless your contract of employment says otherwise).

Eligibility for parental leave

To take parental leave, you must:

  • be an employee
  • have or expect to have parental responsibility for a child under 18
  • have worked for your employer for at least one year.

How much parental leave can I take?

Each parent can take up to 18 weeks in total for each child, until the child turns 18. If you have two children, you can take up to 36 weeks in total.

There are limits on how much leave you can take each year. For example, you can take up to four weeks per child per year. With two children, you can take up to eight weeks per year. This must be taken in week-long blocks.

Time off work for maternity and paternity leave

If you have had a baby, you will be entitled to Statutory Maternity Leave. This is 52 weeks made up of:

  • Ordinary Maternity Leave – first 26 weeks
  • Additional Maternity Leave – last 26 weeks

You do not have to take 52 weeks. However, you must take two weeks’ leave after your baby is born (or four weeks if you work in a factory).

Mother who has taken parental leave to spend time with child

When you take time off because your partner is having a baby, adopting a child, or having a baby through a surrogacy arrangement, you may be eligible for:

  • One or two weeks’ paid Paternity Leave
  • Paternity Pay
  • Shared Parental Leave and Pay

You can share up to 50 weeks of leave between you, and up to 37 weeks of pay between you. You need to share the pay and leave in the first year after your child is born or placed with your family.

Seeking legal advice about time off for family situations

If you need to take time off work for family reasons, there are several ways you may be able to do so, depending on your circumstances.

Should you find yourself at odds with your employer over your right to leave, or you are hesitating about taking time off due to confusion over your legal rights, it may be worth seeking advice from professionals.

At Springhouse, our team of experienced employment law solicitors are able to draw on their knowledge and expertise in dealing with cases involving family rights and flexible working, and helping employees to understand the law surrounding working time and leave.

For an initial discussion about your situation, please do not hesitate to get in touch today.

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