Case study: Time off for family emergencies; where does the employer stand?

Debbie-Haskell-150x150Employees can be tricky bag sometimes and dream staff can quickly become your business nightmare. Take time off for family emergencies as an example; Derek* contacted us when one of his newer members of staff started to request time off as his partner was seriously ill.

Being a small businessman, Derek had naturally given his employee the time off without many questions. When he contacted us with an innocuous query on another matter, he mentioned the employee as an aside, raising a common concern by many employers as to what sort of questions can be asked of an employee.
Our legal team promptly advised him of his rights and explained that an employer is entitled to ask suitable questions to establish whether the situation was a genuine emergency, and whether there was anyone else in the family that could assist in the support.

Not only does this keep the communication between the employer and employee flowing but it also establishes the common ground that not all ‘emergencies’ are emergencies and that the circumstances surrounding a request of this nature can be subject to scrutiny by an employer.

Whilst not pertinent to Derek’s query, time that can be taken off for family emergencies has been confirmed by the Employment Appeal Tribunal as being transient in nature – reflecting the emergency that has arisen, and cannot be used for extended absences.

Furthermore if an employer suspects that this right is being abused by an employee, for example there is a pattern starting to emerge in the days that the employee is absent then an employer is entitled to consider their disciplinary procedures.

However an employer would be well advised to seek legal advice to ensure that they are on a firm footing before commencing this process. Subcribers to our Business Law Plan can contact our legal advice team for bespoke advice on any appropriate action that they may need to take.

* Name has been changed