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Q: We have an employee who has three young children, all under the age of five, and who is continuously taking time off because one or other of the children is ill. Do we have to give them time off if they are unable to arrange childcare? A: All employees have a statutory right to a “reasonable” period of time off to care for dependents under Section 57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996. However, there is no obligation on the employer to pay an employee for this time. A “dependant” for the purposes of this right is a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or a person who lives in the same household as the employee (who is not an employee, tenant, lodger or boarder). The right applies where an employee has no option but to take time off work to take necessary action because of the unexpected disruption to or cessation of arrangements for the care of the dependant such as a school or nursery being closed because of the snow for example. However, it is important to stress that this right is limited to sufficient time to deal with the immediate issues and to sort out longer-term arrangements if necessary. How long is “reasonable” is a question of fact and degree in each individual case. The employee is required to inform the employer of the reason for the absence as soon as reasonably possible and how long it is anticipated to last.

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