Under s57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996, employees have a
statutory right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work to take
action which is necessary in order deal with matters relating to
dependants, such as:
- assisting a dependant who is ill, has given birth, is injured or has been assaulted
- to arrange care for an ill or injured dependant
- following the death of a dependant
- care arrangements for a dependant being disrupted or ending, or
- to deal with an incident at a dependent child’s school.
A “dependant’” means an employee’s:
- spouse, civil partner or unmarried partner
- any person living in the same household as the employee (but who is not a tenant, lodger or boarder), or
- any other person who reasonably relies upon the employee – for example, where the employee is the primary carer for that person.
In Royal Bank of Scotland plc v Harrison,
the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) concluded that there was no
requirement for an employee’s problem to be “sudden” or “urgent” in
order to meet the “necessary” threshold.
In Qua v John Ford Morrison Solicitors,
the EAT held that when determining what constitutes a “reasonable”
amount of time, the Employment Tribunal (ET) should consider the
specific circumstances of the employee and ignore any disruption or
detriment to the employer.
However, the intention of the
legislation is to allow employees to deal with unforeseen problems –
re-occurring problems, such as a dependent child relapsing due to a
known medical condition, are unlikely to fall within the statutory right
What is expected of an employee?
In order to qualify for dependant leave, an employee must tell their employer:
- the reason for their absence as soon as reasonably practicable, and
- how long they expect to be absent (s57A(2)).
is important that the employee notifies their employer as soon as
reasonably possible, particularly given that it is often a feature of an
individual’s employment contract that they report absences without
unreasonable delay. In Ellis v Racliffe Palfinger Limited, the
EAT decided that an employee had not been unfairly dismissed for
exercising his right to take dependant leave, because he had not
informed his employer ‘’as soon as reasonably practicable”.
What protections does the employee have?
who take or seek to take dependant care leave in accordance with the
statutory right have similar rights to protection from detrimental
treatment as women who take or seek to take maternity leave.
employee is dismissed because of a reason connected to the fact that
they took or sought to take dependant care leave in accordance with
their statutory right, then this will be regarded as an automatically
unfair dismissal. This also applies where there is a redundancy
situation and an employee is selected for redundancy because they
exercised their dependency leave rights.
If an employee believes
they have been unlawfully denied dependant care leave or subjected to a
detriment for taking such leave, the time limit for making a complaint
to the ET is three months from the date of refusal or the date of the
detriment. If the employee’s claim succeeds, then the ET may make a
declaration and/or make an award of compensation, the amount of which
will be what the ET considers to be just and equitable, having
consideration to the employer’s behaviour and any loss sustained by the
As schools welcome children back from the summer
holidays, it is likely that employers will be faced with requests from
employees wanting time off to deal with unforeseen, and perhaps urgent,
situations relating to their dependants. It’s important therefore that
both employees and employers are aware of their respective rights and
obligations when these situations arise.