On the 5th day of Christmas my employee said to me… “My childcare arrangements for the Christmas holiday period have just fallen through.”
An acceptable solution to help the employee, particularly if time needs to be taken off at short notice, may be readily identifiable. If this is not possible, the employee may have to rely on the statutory dependent care leave regime to take time off. The right would be triggered where the breakdown in child care arrangements was unforeseen and is an emergency.
Unless the contract of employment provides otherwise, the right to such leave is unpaid.
The employee is unlikely to be able to use dependent care leave to cover the entire school holiday period. The right is to a reasonable amount of time off – normally a day or two is anticipated to allow the employee to sort out the emergency and make alternative arrangements. Each case is likely to be different and needs to be considered on its own set of facts. In considering what is reasonable and necessary the following is relevant:
- the nature of the emergency;
- the relationship between the dependent and the employee;
- the extent to which the employee can call upon someone else for help or make alternative arrangements; and
- the length of time the employee had to explore alternative arrangements – the longer the time the employee had to explore alternative arrangements, the less likely it would be necessary to have time off.
The operational needs of the business and any disruption caused are irrelevant considerations for an employer when determining if leave should be permitted.
To request this type of leave the employee is required to:
- tell the employer as soon as possible the reason for the absence;
- indicate how long they expect to be absent; and
- provide sufficient information to establish the right to take dependent care leave.
To enable employees to understand the parameters of this statutory right, and to ensure that any request for this type of leave is dealt with fairly and consistently, employers are advised to have a clearly communicated policy. As a minimum this policy should address the following:
- when an employee may take unpaid time off to care for their dependants, who may not always be children;
- the process for requesting the leave;
- details of the evidence required to support the request;
- any sanctions for abusing the policy; and
- details of the other rights available including unpaid parental leave, annual leave or flexible working arrangements.
For more details about the issues in this article please contact:
+44 (0) 808 172 93 22
This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.