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Time off work

All employees have a right to time off if a dependant dies, however there is no statutory right to pay. If you need to take time off work due to a bereavement, discuss this with your manager and check your local policies on compassionate leave.

If you work for an NHS employer, bereavement is covered in section 33 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service handbook

ACAS guidance on time off for bereavement provides helpful information also.

There is no legal right to time off when someone who is not a dependant dies.

Death of a child

All employees have a right to 2 weeks off if their child dies under the age of 18, or are stillborn after 24 weeks of pregnancy. This is called "parental bereavement leave". Employees with 26 weeks' continuous service will be entitled to two weeks of paid leave at the statutory rate, and other employees will be entitled to unpaid leave.

Within the NHS in England, Wales and Scotland, parents who experience the death of a child are entitled to a minimum of two weeks paid child bereavement leave. Please see section 23 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service handbook

If further leave is required, employers should act sensitively and allow reasonable time off in line with local policy.

Contact us if you need support or if you feel you are being treated unreasonably, for example if this is due to unsustainable pressures in the workplace leading to staff shortages. 

If you are classed as an employee, you have the right to take time off to deal with any unexpected or sudden problem involving a dependant.

A dependant may be a husband, wife or partner, child or parent, or someone living with you as part of your family. Others who rely solely on you for help in an emergency may also qualify.

You may need to take time off:

  • if a dependant falls ill or has been involved in an accident
  • when a partner is having a baby
  • to make longer-term care arrangements for a dependant who is ill or injured
  • to deal with the death of a dependant, such as making funeral arrangements or attending a funeral
  • to deal with an unexpected disruption or breakdown in care arrangements for a dependant
  • to deal with an incident involving a child during school hours.

You are entitled to take as much time as you need, provided it is a real emergency. For example, if your child becomes unwell you may take off time to deal with their initial needs, such as taking them to the doctor and arranging for their care. You will need to make other arrangements if you want to stay off work longer to care for them yourself.

You cannot request time off for dependants if you know in advance that a problem may arise. You may be able to come to an arrangement with your employer by taking another form of leave, such as parental leave (see below). 

You should also check your workplace policy for more information as entitlements will vary. Your policy should also set out the process to use to request time off.

Emergency leave is sometimes referred to as “carer’s leave”, however this is not the correct terminology in law. Statutory carer’s leave is a different entitlement - see below. You must ensure that you are requesting the correct type of leave in line with your employer’s policy (if there is one).

If emergency leave is refused

If your request for emergency leave is refused:

  • check that your situation meets the criteria for emergencies and time off for dependants (above)
  • check your local policies then contact your HR representative (or manager) and discuss the reasons why you need to take time off
  • remind your employer that all employees are entitled to reasonable time off to deal with emergencies involving a dependant
  • signpost your employer to the ACAS website, which gives best practice guidance for employers to manage time off for staff with dependants and/or

If the issue is not resolved, please contact us. You may also want to consider the reasons for the refusal, for example, is this due to unsustainable pressures at work causing staff shortages?

Pay during time off for emergencies

The right to time off for dependants does not include a statutory right to pay. Whether you will receive pay depends on your local policy or your employment contract. Your employer may have a carer's leave policy that entitles you to a limited amount of paid time off a year to deal with emergency situations. If your employer does not have a local policy, discuss options with your manager, such as working the time back, taking annual leave or taking unpaid time off work.

As an employee you may be allowed time off work for medical or dental appointments. Your employer is not legally required to give you time off unless it is stated in your employment contract. Your employer can insist that you make these visits outside work hours, during annual leave or that you make the time up at a later date. Your employer may allow you the time off but without pay.

Check your contract of employment to see what rights you have to take time off for appointments.

If you are disabled and your employer will not let you take time off for a medical appointment connected with your disability, they could be breaking the law. Read more about discrimination.

If you are pregnant, you are allowed paid time off work for ante-natal care. Read more about this in our having a family toolkit.

There is no specific legal right for an employee to take time off work for fertility treatment or for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), but do check your local policies. Our having a family toolkit contains full information about time off and sickness related to fertility treatment.

If you are unable to take time off due to unsustainable pressures at work, you may want to consider raising this with your line manager in the first instance, and if you are unable to resolve the issue, please contact us

Parental leave allows you to take time off work to care for your child or to spend more time with them.

For each child you have, you are entitled to take up to 18 weeks unpaid leave to care for them, from the time that they are born up to their 18th birthday. Parental leave is normally unpaid, but check your contract or policy, as some employers vary their approach.

Parental leave applies to each child not to an individual's job.

To qualify for parental leave you need to have a contract of employment and have completed one year’s continuous service with your employer. For more information see and check your employment contract and local policy. 

Applying for parental leave

You need to give your employer 21 days’ notice in writing.

If you qualify for parental leave and your employer refuses it, you should speak with your HR department and discuss the reasons given. If you are still refused parental leave, contact us. There may be grounds for a grievance if the issue is not resolved.

From 6 April 2024, if you are classed as an employee and have a dependant with long-term care needs, you are entitled to a week’s unpaid leave a year to provide care or arrange care for your dependant.

The dependant does not have to be a family member, but must rely on you for their care, and have:

  • a disability
  • care needs due to old age
  • a physical or mental injury that means they’re expected to need care for more than three months.

Employees are entitled to carer's leave from their first day of work with their employer. You can either take a whole week off, or take individual days or half days throughout the year, equivalent to your usual working week. For example, if you usually work three days a week, you can take three days of carer’s leave.

For more information see and check your employment contract and relevant policy.

The term 'carer’s leave' is often used to refer to emergency leave; this is not the correct terminology in law. You must ensure that you are requesting the correct type of leave, in line with your employer’s own policy (if there is one).

Applying for carer’s leave

You need to give your employer at least three day’s notice for a day or half a day’s leave, or at least twice the period of the requested leave. For example, to request three days’ leave, you must give at least six days' notice. The request does not have to be in writing.

If you qualify for carer's leave and your employer refuses it, you should speak with your HR department and discuss the reasons given. If you are still refused carer's leave, contact us. There may be grounds for a grievance if the issue is not resolved.

Most RCN representatives have a legal right to paid time off to carry out their trade union duties.

Employers should follow the ACAS Code of Practice on time off for trade union duties and activities (Code of Practice 3).

NHS employers should also follow section 25 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service handbook.

A manager who is also an RCN member may be in negotiation over the facilities time for RCN representatives who they manage. In such cases the RCN will not support the manager as this represents a conflict of interest.

More information on becoming an RCN activist is available here.

In England, Wales and Scotland, if you are an employee and you work in an organisation with 250 or more employees you have the statutory right to request time for study or training.

To make a statutory request for "time to train" you must be an employee and have worked for your employer continuously for at least 26 weeks before you apply.

Please note your employer can refuse your request if they have a good business reason. If you are in England, Wales and Scotland more information is available at

Agency and bank workers do not have the statutory right to request "time to train" or paid time off to study.

You can also find further information in our Training: statutory and mandatory advice guide

A career break is a period of unpaid leave. Career breaks can also be called sabbaticals or employment breaks; there is no specific definition of each term, they are all just agreements between employers and employees. There are no laws that deal specifically with taking a career break, and there are no rights to take a career break.

Career breaks may be offered as part of flexible working arrangements. If your employer does offer career breaks, there should be a clear policy that should cover things like:

  • eligibility criteria
  • how to apply
  • how long career breaks can last
  • what happens to your employment contract (including terms and conditions such as pay increases)
  • whether you will return to the same job afterwards.

Ensure that you get a written agreement that outlines the full terms and conditions of your break.

Employers should review requests on a case-by-case basis, and will need to consider how your work and responsibilities will be covered while you’re off. Your employer may have to refuse your request due to the needs of the service, however they should be fair and consistent. If your employer turns down your request and you feel that this is due to discrimination, please contact us.

Employees cannot take legal action if an employer decides they cannot return to their job or a similar one following a career break.

You can find more information on the website.

Career breaks in the NHS

The NHS uses the term ‘employment break’. NHS employers should provide all staff with access to an unpaid employment break scheme. In any employment break scheme offered to NHS employees:

  • If you return to work within one year, the same job will be available, as far as is reasonably practicable.
  • If the break is longer than one year, you may return to as similar a job as possible.
  • You would return to work at the equivalent salary level, reflecting increases awarded during the break.
  • The period of the break should count toward continuous employment for statutory purposes.
  • Other provisions depending upon length of service, for example, contractual redundancy payments and leave entitlements, should be suspended for the period of the break.

See section 34 of the NHS handbook for more details.



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Maternity, work and family

Learn about maternity leave and pay, your rights as a pregnant worker, family friendly hours and time off. 


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