Time off for dependents is in practice frequently used by employees when issues arise at home, which take them away from the work place. The employee has a right to time off for dependents in emergencies but there is no right to payment. There is also a claim for employees of automatic unfair dismissal if they are dismissed as a consequence of the request to time off.
Despite its frequency in daily life, there is little case law on the subject. There was an RBS case some years ago which dealt with whether the absence requested which was refused was in an emergency and thus covered by the legislation. There has however been a recent case which employers and employees alike may find of interest. In this case, the employee was already on a final written warning for previous matters. His warning was valid for 12 months. During this period, his wife was heavily pregnant and there were concerns over her health, over the weekend. On Monday morning, the employee took his wife to the hospital and made several visits there that day. It was a requirement of the employer’s absence policy that the employee call within 30 minutes of his start time to notify of any absence. The employee attended the hospital with his wife but did not call his employer. He said that his mobile phone battery was dead and that he at some point that day asked his father to call his employer making that call from a payphone at the hospital.
He said he did not call himself as he couldn’t remember the phone number. The next day his wife gave birth so again he did not attend work or follow the notification procedure. His employer subsequently dismissed him for failing to follow their procedure. The employee brought a claim for automatic unfair dismissal on the grounds of him exercising his right to time off for dependants.
The Employment Tribunal dismissed his claim stating that it was a requirement of the right that the employee had to notify his employer as soon as practicable of his absence, the reason for his absence and how long he was to be absent. As the employee had not complied with this (and in the Tribunal’s view he should have done) he had not exercised his right to time off for dependents and as such the dismissal could not be automatically unfair. The employee appealed.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the Tribunal having heard all the facts was entitled to come to the conclusions it did and the EAT dismissed the appeal.