Can I take time off work to look after someone?

You have the legal right as an employee to take a “reasonable” amount of unpaid time off work to deal with unexpected situations affecting your dependants. Your employer is not obliged to pay you during this time off, but some employers may, depending on your contract or workplace policy.

 Who is a dependant?

  • Your spouse, civil partner, parent or child.
  • A person who lives in the same house as you (although not your tenant, lodger, boarder or employee).
  • Anyone else who reasonably relies on you to provide assistance, make arrangements or take action such as an elderly relative.

  When is time off available?

  • To provide assistance if a dependant falls ill, gives birth, is injured or assaulted.
  • To make care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured.
  • In consequence of the death of a dependant.
  • To deal with the unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of a dependant.
  • To deal with an unexpected incident which involves your child during school (or another educational establishment’s) hours.

What is ‘reasonable’ time off?

The amount of time off an employee takes to look after someone must be reasonable for the situation. For example, you might take 2 days off to start with, and if more time is needed, you could book holiday.  An example might be taking time off to organise alternative care for a child who is too ill to attend nursery.

What is “unexpected”?

The right to time off for a dependant will not always cover expected time off.  For example, taking time off to take a child or elderly relative to a planned hospital appointment may not be included and would be better dealt with through an application for unpaid parental leave in advance, if possible.  Taking a child or elderly relative to hospital in an emergency would come under this right.

What about during the coronavirus pandemic?

If a dependant such as a partner, child or relative in the same household gets coronavirus symptoms and you are forced to self-isolate, you should receive Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) as a minimum for this time.

It is always worth being open and honest with your employer and giving them as much notice as is practical. Discussing the option of flexible working arrangements instead of taking longer periods of time off, for example working from home or changing working hours to allow for child-care.


If you have any concerns about your legal rights as an employee, get in touch with our employment expert, Ellie Humphris on We offer free consultations for employees, where we look at your particular circumstances, tell you if we can help and advise on the best and most affordable way for you to fund your claim.


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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