Time Off For Dependants Policy

1. Introduction

With effect from 15 December 1999, the Employment Relations Act introduced a new entitlement to a short amount of unpaid time off, for staff to make arrangements to deal with specific circumstances involving a dependant.

2. Summary of Entitlement

2.1 Definition of a Dependant

Under the Act a dependant is defined as the employee's partner, child or parent, or a person living with the employee as part of his/her family. It does not include tenants or boarders living in the family home, or someone who lives on the household as an employee, for example a live in housekeeper. In cases of illness, injury or where care arrangements break down, a dependant may also be someone who reasonably relies on the employee for assistance, including where the employee is the primary carer or is the only person who can help in an emergency.

2.2 Situations Covered

The Employment Relations Act provides an entitlement to unpaid time off to deal with the following situations:

  • if a dependant falls ill, is injured or assaulted or gives birth
  • the consequences of the death of a dependant, for example to deal with funeral arrangements or attend a funeral
  • because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant
  • to deal with an incident which involves a child of the employee and which occurs unexpectedly in a period during which an educational establishment which the child attends is responsible for him/her

2.3 Amount of Time Off

Under the Act there is no set limit on the amount of time which employees can take off, but government guidance suggests that in most cases, the amount of leave will be one or two days at the most. The leave should be sufficient to deal with the immediate problems and arrange alternative longer-term care if necessary and does not mean, for example, that an employee is entitled to take two week's leave to look after a sick dependant.

2.4 Notice

The Act requires that staff should notify their employer of the reason for their absence and how long they expect to be away from work, as soon as reasonably practicable. If an employee returns to work before it was possible to contact his/her employer he/she should still tell them the reason for the absence on their return to work.

3. Implementation Within The University

3.1 Compassionate Leave

Currently, paid leave may be granted to a member of staff on compassionate grounds according to the circumstances of the case. Applications should be made to the member of staff's Head of Department for approval. The current arrangements whereby Heads of Department exercise discretion in granting paid time off to deal with situations relating to dependants, will continue, as it is anticipated that many of the situations covered by the Employment Relations Act, as set out in 2.2 above, would be considered to be appropriate grounds for compassionate leave.

3.2 Situations Covered by Compassionate Leave

It is impossible to be prescriptive as to the situations for which compassionate paid leave, unpaid leave or alternative arrangements are applicable. In all cases applications should be made to the member of staff's Head of Department, at whose discretion leave is awarded, and who may seek advice from the the Department of Human Resources.

However, a clear distinction exists between those situations for which paid leave on compassionate grounds and those situations for which unpaid leave or other arrangements, would normally be appropriate. Compassionate leave:

  • is designed to support employees in occasional and unexpected emergency situations involving their dependant or family, for example, the death of a close relative.
  • would not normally be appropriate for staff requiring time off to deal with situations concerning dependants which are predictable (for example when the provision of care for a dependant is known to be inadequate) or where time off is requested on a more frequent, regular or long term basis. In such cases unpaid leave, annual leave, flexible working arrangements or other alternative solutions may be sought.

3.3 Departmental Needs

The University aims to support staff in achieving a balance between work and home life. However, Departmental needs will necessarily be an important factor in the consideration of requests for time off to deal with situations on a more predictable, regular or long term basis, when compassionate leave is not deemed to be appropriate.