There’s one clear lesson many of us learned from the big freeze which gripped the nation just over a month ago.
And that’s to expect the unexpected.
When the snows came, many of us found it impossible to get to work because we had to look after family or friends who urgently needed caring for because of the bad weather.
So, what are your rights when it comes to taking time off to look after dependants? Does your boss have to allow it, will you get paid and how long can you be away from the office?
The Government’s advice is, thankfully, pretty clear.
They say that as an employee you’re allowed time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, such as a spouse, partner, child, grandchild, parent, or someone who depends on you for care.
There’s no set time limit and no set definition of an emergency. But it’s fair to assume that not leaving your children unattended at home because school has been cancelled for the day counts as a genuine case.
Good practice in this case would be to talk to your boss and let them know the situation. If the emergency is likely to last some time, they may want to talk to you about how you can cope with any outstanding work or how they might arrange cover.
Crucially, your employer does not have to pay you for this time off – but there may well be an in-house agreement or clause in your contract which allows for some unscheduled paid leave. If so, let your manager know and talks things through with them. Failing all else, it may be that you can take some time as compassionate leave, depending on your company’s policy, though this is likely to be unpaid.
One thing you cannot do though, is use this legislation to take time off for a situation you knew about in advance – such as a hospital appointment. This would not count as an emergency and is something you will have to schedule accordingly.
Examples of emergencies listed in the Government’s guidance include if a dependant has suffered an unexpected illness, injury or been assaulted, goes into labour unexpectedly or a nursing home or nursery closes without warning.
You might also get time off to care for a child if they have been suspended from school, been involved in a fight or injured whilst on a school trip.
What is vital in all these cases is letting your employer know. It might not be possible to do so in advance because of the nature of the emergency – and you don’t have to put it in writing – but it is essential to keep them informed as soon as possible.
And if you’re worried that taking time off will harm your prospects at work, then don’t be.
It is against the law for any employer to refuse you reasonable time off or penalise you for taking it. So if you think you’ve missed out on a promotion because you’ve had to care for your sick grandfather in an emergency, you need to seek advice. At HR Solutions Shropshire we offer a free consultation to allow you to talk things through.