Absence from work

Checking how your workplace deals with absence

Reasons for absence

Apart from annual holiday entitlement, an employee might need time off work for reasons including:

  • short-term and long-term sickness, including mental health conditions
  • helping a child, partner or relative
  • bereavement
  • medical appointments
  • pregnancy-related illnesses and appointments, including IVF
  • bad weather conditions, making travelling to work difficult or impossible 

Each workplace might have different rules on what they see as acceptable reasons for absence and what they will pay. 

For this reason, every workplace should have its own absence policy, so it's important to check this.

What an absence policy should cover

An absence policy should make clear exactly what's expected from both the employer and employee if the employee needs to take time off work.

An absence policy should include:

  • how to report absences, including who the employee should contact and when
  • when the employee needs to get a sick note
  • when return to work discussions will be held and with who
  • how and when to keep in touch
  • how the employer keeps track of absence and if they set any review or 'trigger' points
  • whether the employer provides occupational health or an employee assistance programme (EAP) and when this starts
  • how much the employee will be paid and for how long – see more on sick pay

If your workplace does not have an absence policy, the employee can ask their employer or HR manager what to do if they need time off work. The employer should follow best practice as outlined in this guide.

There are some areas that are covered by law, for example:

Taking time off to help someone else

By law, anyone classed as an employee has the right to take to take time off work to help someone who depends on them (a 'dependant') in an unexpected event.

How much time off can be taken for a dependant

The law does not say how much time can be taken off, or how many occasions. It simply says the amount should be 'reasonable'.

It's a good idea if the employer is as flexible as they can be, depending on the employee's circumstances.

Who counts as a dependant

An employee's dependants can include:

  • their spouse, partner or civil partner
  • their child
  • their parent
  • a person who lives in their household (not tenants, lodgers or employees)
  • a person who would rely on them for help in the event of an accident, illness or injury, such as an elderly neighbour
  • a person who relies on them to make care arrangements

When it's appropriate to take time off for a dependant

The employee can take time off if they need to:

  • help a dependant who is ill, has been injured or assaulted, or gives birth
  • arrange care for a dependant who is ill or injured
  • deal with the death of a dependant
  • deal with an incident involving their child during school hours


Time off for a dependant is unpaid, unless your workplace has a policy that it's paid.

Extra rights in your workplace

Your workplace might offer employees more entitlements for dependants than these minimum statutory rights, so it's a good idea to check.

Difficulty getting to work due to bad weather or travel disruption

If an employee cannot get to work or is going to arrive late because of bad weather or transport problems, they should tell their employer as soon as possible.

There is no legal right for an employee to be paid for working time they've missed because of bad weather or travel disruption.

Some workplace policies might have different rules, so it's a good idea to check.

Absence from work

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