Media Clinic: My sole employee has asked to take six months to look after her ill father. What are my legal obligations?

THE other week, the allmediascotland Media Clinic posed a question for Scotland’s media community to help answer.

One question was posed and one answer was received.

The question was: My sole employee has asked to take six months to look after her ill father. What are my legal obligations?

The answer offered – for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice – comes from Paul Brown, an employment law partner and accredited specialist in employment law at DWF LLP and member of the Law Society of Scotland’s employment law committee.

This is a difficult situation for both parties. The law does not entitle employees to unlimited time off to provide personal care for a sick dependent. Your business is, however, obliged to allow this employee to take a ‘reasonable’ amount of unpaid time off if it is necessary for her to provide assistance to her father.

She is also entitled to take ‘reasonable’ time off to make arrangements for the provision of care for her father and she would be entitled to take ‘reasonable’ time off to deal with any unexpected disruption, termination or breakdown of arrangements for the care of her father.

Strictly speaking, employees are not entitled to take time off to provide personal care for a sick dependent ‘beyond the reasonable amount necessary to enable them to deal with [an] immediate crisis’.

What amounts to ‘reasonable’ time off depends on the particular facts and circumstances of each case.

I suggest the business holds a meeting with this employee in the first instance to see if there is a way to accommodate the interests of both parties.

This will minimise the risk of any claims to the Employment Tribunal, and give both parties an opportunity to discuss ideas for resolving the potential difficulties. For example, it may be possible to agree a flexible working pattern.

Another outcome may be, on the other hand, that the employee herself sees that this request cannot be accommodated.

How feasible would it be to employ someone on a temporary contract?

If the business refuses the request outright, without any discussion, it risks losing the employee/the goodwill of the employee.

As difficult as this is, having a sensitive and open discussion where the challenges that this situation brings to both parties are discussed is the best way forward.

Ultimately, the business has a right to refuse this request.

Our next Media Clinic question: What help is available when you’re facing redundancy?

Want to suggest an answer? Send it to here, along with your name and job title. The Media Clinic will be appearing next on Thursday, August 30.