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Giving employees time off work

Find out how to deal with employees' time off work requests and which of these carry statutory rights to time off.


8 min read

1. Overview

Your staff may request time off for a range of reasons, such as illness, to assist a family member, to go on holiday, do jury and Justice of the Peace service or undertake trade union duties.

Some of these activities, notably public and trade union duties and parental/dependant responsibilities, carry statutory rights to time off - your employees have the right to the time off and you can't refuse.

In other situations, you can choose how you handle requests for time off.

2. Who has the right to time off and when is it paid?

Employees - and other types of workers - have a range of rights to time off work. While most of these rights are only available to employees, some are available to all workers. Note that some of this time off must be paid.

For example you must give every worker paid annual leave of at least 5.6 weeks - 28 working days for those working a five-day week. This can include bank holidays and public holidays.

However, you must not dismiss or subject a worker to any detriment if:

  • they try to use their statutory rights to time off
  • you think they are planning to use one of these rights

Where a worker does not have the statutory right to time off - or has the right but the time off is unpaid - you can use your discretion to:

  • allow that time off
  • pay them for the time off

3. Time off for information and consultation purposes

In certain situations, employees have the right to paid time off to act as a trade union or employee representative for the purposes of information and consultation between staff and the employer.

Collective redundancy situations - time off for consultation

Trade union or elected employee representatives have the right to reasonable time off to attend information and consultation meetings during a collective redundancy situation.

Business transfer situations - time off for consultation

If you are selling your business (or part of your business), trade union or elected employee representatives have the right to reasonable time off to attend information and consultation meetings.

In both collective redundancy and business transfer situations, you must allow employees paid time off where they are:

  • standing in an election to become an employee representative
  • undertaking training as such a representative

Information and consultation agreements

Negotiating representatives have the right to reasonable time off for meetings to set up an information and consultation (I&C) arrangement.

I&C representatives have the right to reasonable time off to exercise their duties.

The same right applies to members of a special negotiating body or European works council.

4. Time off for training and certain job-related duties and activities

Employees can have paid time off to:

  • receive training and/or look for a new job if being made redundant
  • receive training for certain job-related roles
  • carry out certain job-related duties

Young employees are entitled to paid time off for training if they meet specific criteria.

Certain employees can also request time to train. This time can be unpaid.

Basic training/continuing training for young workers

Employees aged 16 and 17 who did not reach a certain standard of education at school have the right to reasonable time off with pay while studying for a qualification that will help them reach that standard.

If they turn 18 while studying, they have the right to complete the course.

Time off for job-seeking/retraining in a redundancy situation

An employee with two years' continuous service who is being made redundant can take reasonable time off with pay to look for another job, or to arrange training.

Time off for carrying out duties for certain job-related roles

Employees have the right to paid time off to carry out:

  • duties as a representative of employees' safety
  • pension scheme trustee training and duties
  • trade union training and duties, including as a union learning representative and a union safety representative

Time off for trade union activities

You must give workers who are union officials and members reasonable unpaid time off for carrying out union activities.

Union activities include:

  • voting in union elections
  • meeting full-time officials to discuss issues relevant to the workplace
  • attending workplace meetings to discuss and vote on the outcome of negotiations

Time off to accompany a colleague at a disciplinary, grievance, flexible working or retirement hearing

Workers - not just employees - have the right to paid time off to accompany a colleague who is:

  • the subject of a disciplinary hearing
  • attending a hearing relating to a grievance they have raised
  • attending a hearing relating to a flexible working request they have made
  • attending a hearing relating to their request to work beyond their intended retirement date

The right to request time to train

If your business employs more than 250 employees, your eligible employees have the right to request time to study or train.

The study or training must aim to improve the employee's effectiveness in your business and the performance of your business.

5. Statutory time off for parental reasons

Employees who are pregnant, new mothers and adoptive parents - and the partners of such employees - may be entitled to statutory time off around the birth or adoption of their child. Some of this time off is paid if the employee qualifies.

Time off for antenatal care and maternity leave

An employee who becomes pregnant is entitled to:

  • paid time off during working hours for antenatal care before maternity leave begins
  • be suspended on full pay before maternity leave begins if her job poses a risk to her and/or her unborn baby and there is not suitable alternative work for her
  • 52 weeks' statutory maternity leave (SML)

She is entitled to statutory maternity pay for the first 39 weeks of SML - but only if she meets certain qualifying criteria.

Adoption leave

If they meet certain qualifying criteria, an employee when adopting a child is entitled to:

  • 52 weeks' statutory adoption leave
  • 39 weeks' statutory adoption pay

Ordinary paternity leave (OPL)

If they meet certain qualifying criteria, an employee who is the partner of either a new mother or a main adoptive parent is entitled to:

  • take a single block of either one week or two consecutive weeks' OPL on the birth or adoption of the child
  • one or two weeks' ordinary statutory paternity pay

Additional paternity leave (APL)

APL is available to eligible employees where:

  • their partner was or is due to give birth on or after 3 April 2011
  • they received or will receive notification on or after 3 April 2011 that they had or have been matched with a child for adoption

Parental leave

An employee who is a parent is entitled to take 13 weeks' unpaid parental leave. Employees can take 18 weeks if the child is disabled.

For births, the leave must be taken before the child's fifth birthday (or 18th if disabled).

For adoptions, the leave must be taken before the fifth anniversary of the child's adoption or the child's 18th birthday, whichever is earlier.

To qualify for parental leave, the employee must have at least one year's continuous service with you.

6. Time off for personal commitments and emergencies

All employees are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off to deal with an emergency involving a dependant.

A dependant normally means partner, children or close family members, but could also mean someone else, such as a frail neighbour who is looked after by an employee.

Discretionary leave

Workers may want time off for personal reasons, such as to:

  • move house
  • attend a wedding
  • visit a sick relative
  • carry out house renovations
  • attend a religious ceremony/event
  • deal with a family problem, such as a divorce
  • attend a doctor's or dentist's appointment
  • attend the funeral of a friend or non-dependant relative

There is no statutory right to this time off. You should have a written policy to cover these situations or you can give discretionary leave on an individual basis.

Extended leave/career breaks

You should have a policy for extended leave/career breaks, for example, where an employee wants a year away from work to get a qualification or spend time with their family.

The policy should cover:

  • how long the leave can last
  • how the leave can be used
  • how you will continue to communicate with the employee
  • whether you can guarantee they will return to the same job
  • what happens if a redundancy situation arises while they are away
  • whether or not the time away will count towards their continuous employment or break continuity of employment
  • the application procedure, including the amount of notice the employee must give and how to appeal if you reject the request

You should also be aware that an employee may make a request for a career break as part of a statutory request for flexible working.

7. Time off for public and judicial service and duties

Employees holding certain public positions are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off to perform their duties. These roles include:

  • member of a local authority, police authority, local education authority, educational governing body, health authority or primary care trust
  • member of any statutory tribunal, an environmental agency or of the boards of prison visitors

Employees can complain to an employment tribunal if they are unreasonably refused time off for public duties or dismissed for asserting the right to time off for public duties.

Jury service

You must not dismiss an employee or subject them to a detriment for having been summoned to participate in jury service.

The employee would not need a year's continuous employment to lodge an unfair dismissal claim - and any such dismissal would be seen to be automatically unfair by an employment tribunal.

Employees are not protected against unfair dismissal if, after you have told them you believe your business will be seriously harmed by their absence, they unreasonably refuse or fail to apply to have their jury service deferred or to be excused from it.

You do not have to pay staff while they are doing jury service, unless the employee's contract permits this.

Justice of the Peace duty

You must allow employees who are Justices of the Peace time off to perform their duties.

While you are not legally required to pay employees on Justice of the Peace service, many employers choose to do so.

Employees in the armed forces

Employees who are in theReserve Forces or Territorial Army may need time off for training. Reservists may even need time off if they are called up for military service.

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