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Time off work

As an employee you may be allowed time off work for doctor or dentist appointments, for example. 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 pregnant, you are allowed paid time off work for ante-natal care. Read more about this in pregnancy and work.

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.

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. An employee may request unpaid leave for IVF treatment. An unreasonable refusal of such a request could amount to sex discrimination if the refusal disproportionately disadvantages women and cannot be justified. If your employer will not allow you to have time off for treatment, please contact us.  Read more about pregnancy and work.

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

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 falls ill 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 carer's leave. If you are taking time off to look after your child who is under five years old you may be entitled to a period of parental leave.

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 and discuss the reasons why you need to take time off.
  • Remind the employer that all employees are entitled to reasonable time off to deal with emergencies involving a dependant.
  • Signpost the 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 wish 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 the employer does not have any local policy, discuss options with your manager such as working the time back, taking annual leave or going unpaid.

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. Within the NHS, bereavement is covered in section 33 of the NHS Terms and Conditions of Service handbook

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

Death of a child

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.

For those outside the NHS, 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.

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. 

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 up to their 18th birthday.

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

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.

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. This right is known as ‘time to train’.

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

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

There is no fixed amount of time off (also known as facilities time) that an employer should give union representatives for trade union duties and activities. The amount of time allowed should be negotiated between the employer and the representative (or RCN officer of the representative). The negotiation should take into account the needs of the business and the expected levels of trade union duties and activities.

Employers should follow the ACAS code on time off for trade union duties and facilities (Code of Practice 3), and the ACAS publication, ‘Trade union representation in the workplace: a guide to managing time off, training and facilities’. These are both available on the ACAS website.

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.


Find answers to your questions about COVID-19 (coronavirus) and work.

Winter wellbeing

Protecting yourself and your patients is vitally important this winter

Your contract

Get answers to your contract questions including notice queries and whether your employer can change your contract.

Maternity, work and family

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

Unsustainable pressures

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified existing pressures on staffing and resources in all health and care settings.

This resource has been designed to support members in delivering safe and effective care and with the difficult decisions they make every day.