Dependants’ Leave Legislation in the UK: A Guide for Employers and HR Teams

Dependants’ Leave Legislation in the UK: A Guide for Employers and HR Teams

In the realm of employment law, ensuring compliance with legislation is crucial for fostering a fair and supportive work environment. One such area that demands attention is dependants’ leave, a provision that recognises the importance of Employees’ responsibilities outside of work.

In our article we aim to guide Employers and HR teams through the intricacies of dependants’ leave legislation in the UK, shedding light on its scope, application, management, impacts on businesses, and steps to ensure legal compliance.

Let’s take a look:


What is Dependants’ Leave?

Dependants’ leave, as stipulated in the Employment Rights Act 1996, allows eligible Employees to take reasonable time off work to deal with unexpected situations concerning their dependants. This provision acknowledges that Employees may require time off to handle emergencies or unexpected events related to their family members or those they provide care for.


Who does it apply to?

The statutory right to take time off for dependants applies to all employees, whether permanent, temporary, full time or part time, they are entitled to take time off for dependants from the first day of employment; there is no length of service requirement.

The right comes from s 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996. Employees who use this right are protected from dismissal or detrimental treatment for taking statutory time off for dependants.

Workers and the self-employed do not have the right to time off for dependants.



As an Employer how do I define a Dependant?

A “dependant” can be a spouse, partner, child, parent, or anyone who lives in the same household as the Employee or for whom the Employee provides care.



As an Employer am I legally obliged to pay for the leave or can it be unpaid?

Dependants’ leave is typically unpaid, though some Employers may offer paid leave as part of internal policies. However, there is no legal requirement to provide paid dependants’ leave.

You should check your internal policies for any terms that refer to payment, if payment of leave is referred to you should honour this.


How much leave is allowed?

There is no legal guidance, the leave should be necessary and reasonable in the circumstances.

As an Employer you should determine what is reasonable, you could consider the following:

  • reason for the request
  • is/was it an emergency, how long has the Employee known about it
  • have they considered alternative options
  • how many other instances have there been (considering there is no limit on the number of times time off for dependants can be requested if it is reasonable and necessary)
  • consider your internal policy, this may be above and beyond legal requirements



As an Employer how should I manage Dependants’ Leave?

As an Employer you should adopt a compassionate and flexible approach when managing dependants’ leave requests. You should ensure your Employees understand how they communicate/request leave, this should be as soon as possible about the situation and the expected duration of their absence.

As an Employer you can ask for relevant details to ascertain the need for the leave, you should follow your internal policy to ensure you are acting reasonably.



How does it impact Business?

While dependants’ leave can pose temporary staffing challenges, if you embrace a supportive and understanding approach demonstrate your commitment to Employee well-being.; this can enhance Employee morale, loyalty, and overall productivity.



What are the key elements for compliance?

  • Clear Policy: as an Employer you should have a well-defined dependants’ leave policy that outlines the eligibility criteria, procedure for requesting leave, and any documentation required
  • Communication: effective communication is essential, as an Employer you should ensure that Employees are aware of their rights regarding dependants’ leave and how to request it
  • Training: as an Employer (and HR teams) you should be well-versed in the intricacies of dependants’ leave legislation and its practical application to provide accurate guidance to both Employees and managers
  • Flexibility: as an Employer you should adopt a flexible approach when considering leave requests, considering the individual circumstances of each case
  • Documentation: as an Employer you should maintain proper records of dependants’ leave requests, including the reasons for the leave and any supporting documents



As an Employer how can I improve policy documents for legal compliance?

  • Regular Review: internal policies should be reviewed periodically to ensure they align with current legislation
  • Clarity: policy documents should be clear, concise, and easily accessible to all Employees
  • Guidance: you should provide examples of scenarios that qualify for dependants’ leave to assist Employees in understanding their rights



What are the legal implications of non-compliance?

Failure to comply with dependants’ leave legislation can result in legal consequences. Employers could face employment tribunal claims, and non-compliance may also cause insurmountable reputational damage.

Let’s take a look at some tribunal case law:

One notable case is R (on the application of O’Brien) v Ministry of Justice (2013), where the Court of Appeal upheld that Employers must adopt a flexible approach when assessing the need for dependants’ leave.

The financial costs of non-compliance can be significant. In 2020, an employment tribunal awarded over £28,000 to an Employee in the case of Rowstock Ltd and another v Jessemey, emphasising the importance of providing dependants’ leave and the consequences of failing to do so.



In conclusion

Dependants’ leave legislation in the UK underscores the significance of balancing work responsibilities with personal ones. For Employers and your HR teams, understanding, implementing, and adhering to this legislation not only ensures legal compliance but also demonstrates a commitment to supporting your Employees during critical times.

By developing clear policies, fostering open communication, and remaining flexible, businesses can create a workplace environment that values and accommodates the needs of their workforce while avoiding the potential legal and financial ramifications of non-compliance.



How can we help you further?

We are here to provide full advice, support, and guidance. We can advise in any HR or Employment Law matter: you can contact a member of our team on 0333 006 9489 or [email protected]





This article contains a general overview of information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.

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