In her third article on time off work, Val Moore looks at the legislation relating to statutory time off.

Employees have a number of different statutory rights to ask for reasonable time off work: some paid, some unpaid.

Employers must permit employees to take unpaid time off to:

  • perform public duties (ie Justice of the Peace, local or police authority, school boards or similar)

  • attend, where summoned, for jury service

  • appear as a witness (where issued with a witness summons)

  • participate in activities of a recognised, independent trade union

  • deal with emergencies involving dependants.

Employers must permit employees to take paid time off to:

  • carry out duties as an official of a recognised trade union

  • carry out duties as an elected safety representative

  • accompany a fellow employee to a formal grievance or disciplinary interview, retirement hearing or meeting to discuss a flexible work request

  • receive antenatal care, if pregnant

  • undertake study or training, if aged between 16 and 18

  • look for alternative employment during a redundancy notice period.

Also (but not often seen for smaller employers) to:

  • carry out duties as an employee representative on collective redundancies/transfers of undertakings consultations

  • carry out duties as an information and consultation representative for the purposes of the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations 2004

  • undertake duties as a European Works Council representative

  • undertake duties as a pension fund trustee.

Employees may request a reasonable amount of time off; what is reasonable will depend on:

  • how much time is required to perform the particular duty

  • how much time the employee has already been permitted

  • the effect of the individual’s absence on the employer’s business.

Employers must actually permit the individual to take time off; simply rearranging an employee’s work so that the individual makes up for the time off at a later date is not sufficient.

The basic guidelines for unpaid time off are as follows.

  • The employee should give the employer “reasonable” notice of the dates on which time off is needed and details of how much time off will be required.

  • The time off must be agreed in advance; the employee cannot simply take the time and then claim it was for public duties.

  • Time off for dependants, in an emergency situation, cannot always be agreed in advance, but the employee must inform the employer as soon as is “reasonably practicable”.

  • If the employee is allowed time off for other reasons as well, eg to take part in union activities, the employer can take this into account in deciding how much additional time off is reasonable.

  • Where the public duty has training requirements or other essential activities attached to it, such as being a magistrate, then the employer should recognise, when agreeing to the request for time off, that these additional days off may also have to be given.

  • If the employee's attendance is essential to the business, it may be reasonable for the employer to refuse time off.

The basic guidelines for paid time off are as follows.

  • The employee should give the employer “reasonable” notice of the dates on which time off is needed and details of how much time off will be required.

  • The time off must be notified in advance; the employee cannot simply take the time and then claim it was for qualifying duties.

Requests for paid time off are most likely to be for:

  • antenatal care

  • time off for training (the right to request)

  • redundancy.

Antenatal care

Pregnant employees have the right to seek reasonable paid time off during working hours to attend appointments for antenatal care. The appointment must have been made on the advice of a registered medical practitioner, registered midwife or registered health visitor. The type of appointments covered include, for example, parentcraft classes and relaxation classes.

The employer may require the employee to produce:

  • a certificate showing she is pregnant

  • some evidence of the appointment.

The employer cannot require this for the employee’s first appointment during pregnancy.

The individual has a right to be paid at her appropriate hourly rate.

The right does not extend to paid time off for expectant fathers (or same-sex partners) to accompany their partners to antenatal classes, although some employers may permit this anyway (whether paid or unpaid).

Employees who want to become pregnant and are attending IVF clinics, etc, have no statutory right to time off, though many employers do allow them some additional paid leave.

Time off for training (the right to request)

Employees working for at least 26 weeks and working for employers with 250 or more employees are entitled to request time off work to undertake study or training. This right was going to be extended to all employees from 6 April 2011, but this did not happen.

Redundancy

Employees who have been continuously employed for two years or more and who are under notice of redundancy are entitled to seek reasonable paid time off work to look for new employment or seek training.

Seeking work can include searches through newspapers in the local library, door-to-door searches and agency appointments. There is no need for the employee to produce proof of appointments.

The employer is only liable to pay up to 40% of one week’s pay for the time off taken during the whole of the notice period. This provision does not mean that further time off should not be granted, but rather that when the time off is granted, it need not be paid for.

It would be advisable to have a suitable policy in place to try to balance the needs of the employee with the needs of the employer.

Last reviewed 21 January 2014