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Emergency time off

Ellis v Ratcliff Palfinger

Employees are entitled to take unpaid reasonable time off work to deal with dependant-related emergencies. It’s subject to their telling the employer – as soon as reasonably practicable – why they are absent and for how long they expect to be off work.

Mr Ellis’ automatically unfair dismissal case failed because he hadn’t taken the necessary steps to keep his employer informed of his whereabouts when his wife went into labour and went on to give birth. 

He was already on a final written warning for attendance issues. He took his wife to hospital several times one Monday without telling Ratcliff where he was, although his father telephoned for him that afternoon. The next day he again attended hospital where she gave birth. He didn’t go into work and didn’t telephone to explain why. He was then contacted by his employer who asked him to explain his absence urgently, and Mr Ellis left a voicemail message explaining that he would not be in work the next day. 

At his disciplinary hearing Mr Ellis said that the battery on his mobile phone had died and he couldn’t remember Ratcliff’s phone number. He was dismissed. 

The tribunal held that he had not been automatically unfairly dismissed for taking time off. Employment protection did not kick in because Mr Ellis had not kept his employer informed about his absence. The reasonable practicability of making contact depends on the employee’s state and condition, and here Mr Ellis could have made more of an effort. 

The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld that decision.