What are the rules for taking time off work for family illness?

Zoe Ball, who has revealed her mum has been diagnosed with cancer. (Getty Images)
Zoe Ball has revealed she may be taking some time off from Radio 2 following her mum's cancer diagnosis. (Getty Images)

Zoe Ball has revealed she may be taking time away from her work at Radio 2 following her mum being diagnosed with cancer.

The 53-year-old presenter shared on social media that her mum, Julia, is currently living with the disease.

"Heartbreakingly our beautiful Mama Julia has been diagnosed with Cancer," she wrote on X.

"As many of you know from experience, these are extremely tough times. Mum is being incredibly brave."

Alongside a family photo and a picture of her mum, the broadcaster continued: "Sending out love to people reading this who are battling cancer, or awaiting diagnosis & also to the folk looking after their dear ones who are poorly."

She also went on to acknowledge that her mother's illness means she may have to take some time away from her role at Radio 2.

"I’m trying to be at work on breakfast as often as I can but occasionally need to be home with my Mama," she added.

Rules surrounding taking time off for family illness

The diagnosis of a close family member can be emotionally challenging, so it is not surprising that employees may look to take some time out from their work responsibilities.

A recent survey, by Instantprint, found over a fifth (22%) of workers had taken time off for illness of a family member, friend or dependent, but it is often difficult to know what your rights are in terms of requesting leave.

"Unfortunately many employees find themselves in this difficult position, where they are juggling their career alongside coping with the emotional impact of a family member’s illness and the need for time off to provide care and support to them," explains Tabytha Cunningham, partner in the employment team at Paris Smith solicitors.

While there is no single set of rules in this area, Cunningham says employees finding themselves in this situation can explore various options.

"The starting point is always to explain their personal situation to their employer and seek support with the same," she advises.

"Short term emergency care needs can be dealt with by the right to time off to care for dependents, which allows a short period of unpaid time off, usually one or two days to deal with an emergency situation."

Experts advise speaking to your manager about a family illness as soon as possible. (Getty Images)
Experts advise speaking to your manager about a family illness as soon as possible. (Getty Images)


Cunningham says many employers in this situation will exercise their discretion to offer flexibility, for example utilising a combination of unpaid leave and holiday allowance, or compassionate leave.

"Whilst an employer could request evidence of the diagnosis if there were concerns about the entitlement to leave, employers should deal with any request for evidence sensitively," she continues.

"Where a family member will need support longer term, for example, during a period of treatment, employees could consider making a request for flexible working, to adjust their working arrangements to allow them to provide this support, for example, condensing or reducing hours or requesting a nine day fortnight to allow them to accompany their family member to treatment sessions."

Where a family member has longer term care needs, the Carer’s Leave Act 2023 which is due to take effect from 6 April 2024 will provide a new statutory entitlement to one week of flexible, unpaid leave per year for employees who are caring for a dependent with a long-term care need.

"Whilst this right is limited to one week’s leave, this is an important change and will at least open the dialogue with employers as to the further support that can be provided to employees with caring responsibilities," Cunningham continues.

There is of course, the mental health and wellbeing of the employee to consider during an emotionally challenging period.

"Alongside this, of course the emotional impact of a family member’s ill health can in turn impact on the employee’s personal wellbeing and health," Cunningham explains. "Employees in this situation should always take advice from their own GP if they are struggling to cope with the situation and of course are entitled to take sick leave if they are personally unable to attend work due to the impact on their personal health."

Dealing with a family illness can take its toll on you emotionally at work. (Getty Images)
Dealing with a family illness can take its toll on you emotionally at work. (Getty Images)

Tips for coping at work

Sharon Armstrong, HR specialist and CEO of recruitment agency Armstrong Appointments has put together some advice for looking after your own wellbeing at work while coping with family illness.

Communicate with your manager

"Open communication with your manager regarding your situation can help them provide support and flexibility as needed," she explains.

Set boundaries

Limit work-related communication outside work hours to maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid burnout. "Allow yourself time to process emotions outside of work hours," Armstrong adds.

Practice self-care

Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and wellbeing, such as mindfulness exercises or spending time in nature, can help you manage stress and maintain mental clarity.

Seek professional support

Armstrong advises considering speaking to a therapist or counsellor who can provide coping strategies and emotional support tailored to your specific situation.

Mental health: Read more

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