If you’re a carer, emergencies that mean you have to take time off work to look after a loved one are more likely to crop up than for other employees.

On this page you can find out:

1. What counts as an ‘emergency’?
2. What are my rights to time off work for emergencies?
3. What if I'm treated badly at work because I’ve taken emergency leave?

What counts as an ‘emergency’?

Anyone could have a family emergency that requires time off work, but if you’re a carer, it can happen more often because you’re already looking after someone who’s vulnerable and might need help. The law gives you a right to time off to deal with emergencies involving dependants. A dependant is a partner, child, parent or someone who depends on you for care.

For something to be classed as an emergency, you must have been unaware that the event was going to occur. For example, you would be entitled to take time off if the person you care for has an accident or is taken ill and rushed to hospital. It would also be an emergency if someone they rely on for care while you are at work doesn’t show up, but you couldn't take time off for a scheduled hospital appointment.

In most cases, your employer will give you time off to deal with the emergency, but then expect you to take unpaid leave, holiday or parental leave if you had to deal with any ongoing situations or long-term care.

What are my rights to time off work for emergencies?

You have a right to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of time off to deal with the emergency. Of course, what your employer sees as reasonable will vary from case to case. There are no limits to how many times you can take emergency leave, but if you regularly take time off for emergencies or it’s affecting your work, your employer might want to talk to you about it.

Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for emergency time off, although some will. Details of your employer’s policy should be in your contract or available from your HR representative. In order to be protected by the law, you must tell your employer that you’re taking emergency leave.

What if I'm treated badly at work because I’ve taken emergency leave?

Carers shouldn't be treated unfairly as a result of taking time off for an emergency. If you experience problems at work and can’t solve them on your own, it’s a good idea to talk to someone for advice. Your trade union representative or ACAS can help you explore your options for dealing with the situation.

Go to Useful organisations and websites for details on how to contact ACAS or a trade union, and have a look at our page about Protection from discrimination for more on your rights at work.

More information

Page first published: 31 December 2015
Next review due: 31 May 2017