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Taking time off for emergencies

Learn about your rights if you’re a carer and have to take time off from work for family emergencies.
2 min read
In this article
What counts as an ‘emergency’? What are my rights to time off work for emergencies? 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 looking after someone in a vulnerable situation who is more likely to 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’re 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 they could 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, different employers have different definitions of ‘reasonable’. 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.

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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. ACAS can give advice on how to deal with disputes at work. Your trade union representative, if you have one, may also be able to help.



Information, advice, training, conciliation and other services for employers and employees to help prevent or resolve workplace problems.


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Further reading

Flexible working

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Last updated: 03 Jun 2019