Does an employee have the right to time off if their child's school or nursery is closed unexpectedly, for example due to severe weather?

Employees have a statutory right to a reasonable period of unpaid time off to care for dependants under s.57A of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The right applies where an employee needs to take time off work to take necessary action because of the unexpected disruption or termination of arrangements for the care of a dependant. This will apply where schools or nurseries close due to severe weather or transport disruption, for example.

A "dependant" for the purposes of this right is a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or person who lives in the same household as the employee (other than as an employee, tenant, lodger or boarder).

The right to time off for dependants is limited to sufficient time off to deal with the immediate issues and sort out longer-term arrangements if necessary. How long is reasonable is a question of fact and degree in each case. The employee must inform the employer of the reason for the absence as soon as reasonably possible and of how long they anticipate the absence will last.

An employee who is unreasonably refused time off in accordance with the right can complain to an employment tribunal and, if successful, may be awarded compensation. Any dismissal of an employee connected with the fact that they exercised this right will be automatically unfair, and the employee will be entitled to bring a claim whether or not they meet the service requirement for unfair dismissal claims.