There is no question that genuine or unauthorised absences can be hugely disruptive to businesses. Employers also need to be aware of the potential for allegations of disability discrimination and other employment-related issues to arise in circumstances where employee absences are not effectively managed.
At Lupton Fawcett, we work closely with our clients in order to assist them in identifying the type of absence that they are dealing with and the steps that they need to take in order to ensure that the risk of disputes and employment tribunal claims is minimised.
If you have any questions about on any aspects of absence management, we can help you. Our Leeds, Sheffield and York teams offer a range of legal services to businesses in Yorkshire and the surrounding areas. To speak to one of our lawyers, simply call 0333 323 5292 or send us an email. Alternatively, fill out an enquiry form and tell us a suitable time to call you back.
When can an employee request time off?
Employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work when it is necessary to deal with certain unexpected or sudden events affecting a dependant. This right is available to all employees irrespective of:
- Their length of service
- Whether they work full-time or part-time
- Whether they are employed on a permanent, temporary or fixed-term basis
Employees have the right to take a reasonable amount of time off in the following situations:
- To provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted. An illness or injury does not have to be serious or life threatening to be covered
- To make care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured (for example, taking a sick child to stay with relatives)
- If a dependant dies. In these circumstances, unpaid time off is intended to enable an employee to deal with practical matters required as a result of a death (for example, arranging and attending a funeral). This should not be confused with compassionate leave, which the business may deal with separately
- To deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant (for example, to make alternative arrangements if a child's carer is ill)
- To deal with an unexpected incident involving a child during school hours
Businesses can also decide to allow employees’ unpaid time off in situations other than those listed above (for example, if their central heating system breaks down).
Who is a dependant?
- A spouse, civil partner, child or parent (but not grandparent) of the employee
- A person who lives in the same household as the employee (excluding tenants, lodgers and boarders)
- Anyone who reasonably relies on the employee:
- To make arrangements for care to be provided if their existing arrangements are unexpectedly disrupted or terminated
- Because they have fallen ill, given birth, been injured or assaulted
- To make arrangements for care to be provided because they are ill or injured
What is a “reasonable” amount of time off?
This will always depend on the nature of the incident and the employee’s individual circumstances. However, in the vast majority of cases, it is unlikely that an employee will require more than a few hours or, at most, one or possibly two days to deal with an incident affecting a dependant.
Remember, unpaid time off for dependants is intended to be a short-term solution to deal with an immediate crisis. The business should discuss alternative arrangements with the employee (for example, taking annual leave or temporary flexible working arrangements), if the situation affecting their dependant is likely to require more time to resolve.
What obligations do employees have?
Unless it is impossible for them to do so until they return to work, employees will only be entitled to take time off to care for a dependant if they inform the business as soon as possible of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be away from work.
If an employment tribunal finds that an employee has been refused permission to take time off, or was subjected to a detriment for taking it (or seeking to take it), the tribunal can award compensation to the employee.
If the tribunal decides that the employee has been unfairly dismissed for taking time off to look after a dependant, it can order the business to:
- Re-employ the dismissed employee on new terms with no loss of continuity of employment (re-engagement)
- Re-employ the dismissed employee on the same terms of employment with no loss of continuity of employment (reinstatement)
- Pay compensation
- Implement a clearly worded policy setting out the circumstances in which employees can take time off to care for their dependants and any evidence the business may require
- Set out the notification procedures that employees must follow in the policy
- Stipulate the penalties for abusing the right and for failing to follow the notification procedures in the policy
- Explicitly state in the disciplinary procedure that abuse or breach of the policy will result in disciplinary proceedings being instigated
- Publicise the policy so that employees cannot claim they were unaware of their obligations
- Signpost other rights that employees may have which may be more appropriate (for example, parental leave)
Practical steps for businesses to take
Please click here to find out more information on the HR policies & procedures that our support services are able to provide.
We also provide absence management training for businesses and organisations and can tailor our courses to meet your individual needs and requirements. Please click here to find out more about our employment law training services.
How we can help
At Lupton Fawcett, our expert team of employment law solicitors can assist you in the effective operation of your business by ensuring that a properly structured absence management process is put into place. We will help you comply with your legal obligations in terms of identifying and understanding the reasons behind your employee's absence, together with the requirements (where appropriate) to consider making reasonable adjustments.
Contact our experts today
If you have an issue with one or more of your employees regarding taking time off, please get in touch with Lupton Fawcett today for comprehensive legal advice and guidance.
We provide our human resources services to clients around Yorkshire and beyond from our offices in Leeds, York and Sheffield. You can get in touch with us by using the details below.
Please note this information is provided by way of example and may not be complete and is certainly not intended to constitute legal advice. You should take bespoke advice for your circumstances from our lawyers.
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