Q&A - What are my rights in taking time off work to care for terminally ill wife?

Q:  My wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year. My employers have since let me work from home. Six weeks ago she was admitted into the hospice and my boss said I could take off as much time as I liked to be with her. Now he says I must make a formal request if I intend to take any more time off. What are my rights?

A:  You should check your contract and any supplementary documents, to see whether there is any provision for compassionate leave and if so, your entitlement.

In any event, employees may take unpaid time off work to deal with emergencies involving a dependent. For these purposes, ‘emergency' covers illness and your wife will be ‘a dependent'. However, your Employer is not obliged to pay you for such time off. The permitted amount of time taken off must be ‘reasonable', i.e. to deal with the emergency and make any necessary arrangements. Unlimited time off is unlikely to be considered reasonable in these circumstances.

You should therefore make alternative arrangements if you want to stay off work for a prolonged period and care for your wife. You may request flexible working (provided you have not made a similar request in the last 12 months). Certain people have a legal right to make such a request and they include carers providing regular and substantial care to an adult living with them. An Employer must consider the request and can only refuse for a genuine business reason (e.g. additional costs, inability to reorganise work amongst staff etc.)

If the employer fails to make a decision otherwise than on business grounds or incorrect facts, you can complain to the Employment Tribunal. As employment law is complex, it is worthwhile contacting your solicitor for specific legal advice.


Robert Williams

Robert Williams

Partner and Complaints Handler

Partner and Head of the Civil Litigation, Personal Injury and Dispute Resolution team in Wrexham