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Caring for dependants

Time off for dependants

Employees have the right to take unpaid time off for certain emergencies (also known as 'time off for dependants'). You have this right no matter how long you've worked for your employer.

Everyone must cope with emergencies from time to time. As a carer, you may be more likely to have sudden emergencies to deal with. You are entitled to 'reasonable time off work' for emergencies involving the person that you care for where they live in the same household as you and/or the cared for person reasonably relies on you to decide to care for them.

The right is to unpaid leave only, but your employer may choose to pay you during the time that you are off work. You should, therefore, check your contract or company policy to see if your employer will pay you for this time off, but if they don't have a specific policy this decision is up to them.

Who is a 'dependant'?

A dependant can be your mother or father, your son or daughter, or anybody who lives with you as a member of your family and is dependent on you. A dependant can also be someone who would rely on your help in an emergency, such as an elderly neighbour who lives alone.

What counts as an emergency?

There are several situations that count as an emergency.

Examples are:

  • When your care arrangements are temporarily disrupted (such as when a nurse doesn't arrive), or break down completely.
  • When someone you're looking after, dies and you need to make arrangements or go to the funeral.
  • When someone you're looking after is ill, or has been assaulted (for example, has been mugged, or your child has been in a fight).
  • When you need to make arrangements for the long-term care of someone you're looking after who is ill or injured (but this does not include giving them long-term care yourself).

Your rights allow for a 'reasonable' amount of time off. Each case is different, but in most cases, one or two days may be enough. There is no set limit on how often you can claim time off for dependants, if you are dealing with real emergencies. If your employer feels that you are taking more time off than they can cope with, they need to let you know.

If the problem takes longer to deal with, let your employer know as soon as you can, explaining why you need more time and how much longer you think you will need. Put this in writing if you can. Your employer may have a form for you to fill in.

Having the right to take time off for dependants can give you some legal protection. If you think your employer has treated you unfairly because you have taken time off to deal with an emergency or to help a dependant, ask your union or a legal adviser for advice.

Unpaid parental leave

Parents and other employees with parental responsibility can take up to 18 weeks’ unpaid parental leave for each of their children under five years old. The government is extending the qualifying age for children and from April 2015 you will be able to take unpaid parental leave if you have parental responsibility for a child under the age of 18.

You can take up to four weeks’ unpaid parental leave in any year (more if your employer agrees to this).

Annual leave and pay

All employees are entitled to a minimum of 28 days paid annual leave per year (pro-rated for part-time workers). An employer can choose to include bank holidays as part of a worker's statutory annual leave.

Other ways your employer can help

In addition to flexible working, other ways your employer can help include:

  • discretionary unpaid and paid leave
  • granting a career break

Discretionary unpaid and paid leave

As well as your statutory right to take time off in an emergency, your employer may allow you extra time off, either paid or unpaid. This is sometimes referred to as 'special leave' or 'compassionate leave'. There is no statutory entitlement to this leave, but you may have a right to it under your employment contract or it may be something that your employer agrees to on an 'ad hoc' basis.

Compassionate leave can help when you need to look after the person in your care for a longer period, such as when they come out of hospital. 

Granting a career break

If working and caring become too difficult and you are thinking about giving up work, ask about a career break or 'sabbatical'. Some employers offer paid or unpaid career breaks, so it is worth checking. It would mean you could concentrate on your caring role for a while, knowing that you have your job to go back to.

If you are on an unpaid career break, you may also be entitled to Carer's Allowance during this time even if your salary is usually above the threshold, because your eligibility for Carer's Allowance is assessed based on your weekly net income.

However, once your circumstances have changed and you return to work, you will need to notify the Department of Work and Pensions about a change in your circumstances.

More information

Find out about returning to work as a carer.

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