Employees’ statutory rights to time off to undertake public service duties

October 2, 2008

In June 2008, we reported on the rights and obligations of employers in relation to Army reservists. However, this is just one area in which a right to time off from work may arise. This article considers the more general issue of employees’ statutory rights to time off to undertake public service duties and the proposed extension of these rights under a new government consultation.

Existing legislation

Currently employees are entitled to time off work to carry out a number of roles, which include undertaking duties as a justice of the peace (magistrate) or a member of a local authority, police authority, any statutory tribunal, a relevant health body, the managing or governing body of an educational establishment or the governing body of a further or higher education corporation.

The existing legislation is contained within the Employment Rights Act 1996 and allows employees reasonable time off during working hours to go to meetings or to carry out their duties. There is no obligation on an institution to pay the employee for the time off, although many do, and the time off is to be agreed with the institution beforehand.

The consultation

The new government consultation paper focuses purely on what other roles should be added to the list of positions that currently attract the entitlement to time off. The list over which the Government is consulting includes:

• members of probation boards, board members of probation trusts, members of court boards

• youth offender panel members

• lay advisers assisting multi-agency public protection arrangements.

The Government is also considering adding a number of housing roles and roles in third-sector organisations, such as charity trustees.

Benefits for employers

According to the consultation paper, benefits for employers include the development of skills that can be used in the workplace, boosting the public image of the organisation and improved productivity by adopting flexible working practices.

Existing right to time off

Ascertaining how much time off is reasonable is arguably the most difficult aspect of these rights for institutions to manage. In seeking to ascertain what is reasonable, reference should be made in particular to how much time off is required for the performance of the duties of the office, the circumstances of the employer’s business and the effect of the employee’s absence on the running of that business.

What happens next?

The consultation period closes on 19 December 2008. The current intention is for implementation of the extension to the right by secondary legislation in April 2009.

Right to request time off to train

Recently, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills also published a consultation paper setting out details of its proposals to give employees in England the right to request time off for skills training and to impose obligations on employers to consider such requests seriously. The consultation paper proposes that employees with 26 weeks’ service will have a legal right to ask their employer to give them time away from work to undertake relevant training.

Diane Gilhooley is HR expert in the education team at Eversheds.

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