Dependant Leave during lockdown
Following the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that individuals considered clinically extremely vulnerable should begin to shield again and with the majority of schools closed for all those accept vulnerable children and those of key workers, there is likely to be an increase in the use of dependant leave by employees with caring responsibilities.
Under Section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996, all employees are entitled to take a reasonable amount of time during working hours in order to take action which is necessary because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant. A dependant could be a spouse, partner, child, parent or someone who depends on you for care.
There is no entitlement for employees to be paid during any period of dependant leave however, employers may, at their discretion, pay employees for any period of dependant leave taken.
The legislation makes it clear that dependant leave can only be taken in certain circumstances, namely:
- To provide assistance when a dependant falls ill, gives birth or is injured or assaulted;
- To make arrangements to provide care to a dependant who is ill or injured;
- To deal with the death of a dependant;
- To deal with the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant; or
- To deal with an incident involving the employee’s child during school hours.
The main purpose of dependant leave is to allow an employee to deal with an unexpected emergency and not for ongoing care. Absences should be brief, usually one or two days. It needs to be emphasised that dependant leave is not to be used, for example, to allow an employee to act as a substitute for another carer but to put alternative care arrangements in place.
It is likely that working parents will consider taking dependant leave in order to make arrangements for childcare where possible. If an employee needs to take a longer period of leave to care for their child, they may also take Parental Leave which entitles eligible employees to take unpaid leave to look after their child’s welfare. Parents are entitled to 18 weeks’ leave for each child up to their 18th birthday. A parent can take up to four weeks’ parental leave per child each year.
As with the first lockdown, employers are likely to see an increase in working parents and employees with caring obligations taking dependant leave. There are a number of alternative options to taking dependant leave which employers should be aware of such as flexible working arrangements and the furlough scheme. These may be beneficial to employees who now have additional caring responsibilities as a result of the new lockdown.