Can a working dad take time off for his sick kids’ hospital appointments?

Our daughter has a brain tumour and hydrocephalus, our son has autism. Our daughter has hospital appointments every 4-6 months for various things. Where does my husband stand on having time off from work to help with hospital appointments please?


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This week employment lawyer Steve Eckett helps a family who have a lot of hospital appointments to attend.

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Thank you for sending in your question on this important topic of time off to take children to medical and hospital appointments.

The law provides some basic protections in the event of an emergency or where there is a breakdown in childcare arrangements.

Emergency leave

If one of your children is suddenly taken ill and you need to take them to the Doctors or hospital or if there is a breakdown in childcare arrangements then your husband has the right to take emergency leave under the Time off for Dependents legislation.   This is set out at Sections 57A and 57B of the Employment Rights Act 1996.   The right is limited to reasonable time off and there is an obligation to keep the employer updated in terms of when your husband expects to return to work.    The downside is that there is no right to be paid for such emergency time off.

The hospital appointments that you have set out are incredibly important but are set down in advance and so will probably not be classed as an emergency and so it will be down to the discretion of your husband’s employer to allow time off whether paid or unpaid.

Parental leave

The other option is to consider taking Parental leave which is a statutory right.  To qualify your husband must have worked for his employer for at least one year.  If so, your husband can take up to 18 weeks leave per child which can be taken up to their 18th birthday.   The employer can refuse to allow your husband to take all 18 weeks in one go and usually they are taken in blocks of one week.  The employer is entitled to 21 days’ notice to take Parental leave.  The downside again is that there is no entitlement to paid Parental leave unless the employer has a more generous contractual policy.

If any of your children is entitled to welfare benefits to assist with any disability then parental leave can be taken a day at a time.

Compassionate leave policy

Remember though that these are the basic minimum legal entitlements and many employers have written policies on time off and so I would recommend that your husband asks his employer whether there is a written policy for time off to take the children to medical and hospital appointments.  This should clarify whether such time off is paid and whether there is a wider compassionate leave policy which captures the need for such time off and which will hopefully be more generous.

Many employers would be accommodating and sympathetic in such circumstances and attending scheduled appointments every four to six months is not going to duly impact on the workforce.   It may well be the position that by discussing this with your husband’s employer in advance they may well allow time off at full rates of pay, which in my opinion would be the commonsense approach because it is not going to be a regular occurrence. As the appointments are in the future then planning can be arranged in terms of covering workloads and shift patterns.

Time off for emergencies

If there is an emergency for example because one of your children has a relapse at school or suddenly falls ill then you can safely fall back on the Time off for emergencies legislation, which guarantees time off, albeit unpaid.   Most employers from my experience would not reduce pay and would be sympathetic but they do not have to be.

The other alternative is to take annual leave for the days of the appointments and to book in advance which will guarantee full pay.  Your husband could also request unpaid leave but then he might as well invoke his Parental leave rights.

I trust that this clarifies the legal position on the important issues that you have raised.


Steven Eckett is a Partner and Head of Employment at Meaby & Co LLP. If you have any issues relating to family friendly rights he can be contacted on 020 7703 5034 or by e-mail [email protected]

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