Emergency time off for dependants
Employed carers have the right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off work to deal with particular situations affecting their dependants. This right is covered by the amended Employments Rights Act 1996. In Northern Ireland these laws are called the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Employment Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1999. Some organisations enhance this by providing paid time off for employees in these circumstances.
A dependant is defined as a spouse, civil partner, child or parent (but not grandparent) of the employee or a person who lives in the same household as the employee, excluding tenants, lodgers and employees. In addition, ‘dependant’ includes those who reasonably rely on the employee to provide assistance if they fall ill or to make arrangements for the provision of care.
An employee is only entitled to take time off for dependants under this statutory right where it is necessary for that person:
- to provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured
- to make longer-term care arrangements for the provision of care for a dependant who is ill or injured. (This would include, for example, arranging to employ a temporary carer. It does not enable the employee to take additional or ongoing time off to care for the dependant themselves)
- to deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant.
It should be noted that this doesn’t apply to planned time off to care for dependants, for example, to take them to a medical appointment.
What counts as a reasonable amount of time off will depend on the individual circumstances. The nature of the incident and the extent to which another person was available to assist are relevant factors, but not any potential disruption to the employer’s business. An employer should always take into account the employee’s individual circumstances. Decisions should always be based on the facts of each case.
Right to request flexible working
The Work and Families Act 2006 and the Employment Rights Act give employed carers the right to request flexible working, such as changed hours or working from home. There is no automatic right to actually work flexibly; the right is to make a request to do so. Employers can refuse a request, but only on specified grounds. Employees can appeal against such a refusal. If a request is granted, it will be a permanent change to the employee’s contract, unless agreed otherwise.
For the purposes of this legislation, the definition of a carer is someone who is, or expects to be, caring for a person aged 18 or over who is in need of care and who is either:
- a spouse, partner or civil partner
- a close relative, such as a parent, parent-in-law, adult child, sibling, sibling-in-law, uncle, aunt, grandparent or step-relative
- any adoptive relation or someone who is living at the same address as the carer.
Employees must have worked for their employer for 26 weeks at the date an application is made. Flexible working also applies to parents as well as carers – and there may be an overlap, for example when a parent has a disabled child.