How much time off must an employer give an employee to carry out their public duties?

The statutory provisions on time off for public duties do not define how much time off employers must give employees other than to specify that the amount of time off must be "reasonable in all the circumstances". Under s.50(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996, when determining whether or not the amount of time off is reasonable in all the circumstances, employers should have regard to:

  • how much time off is required for the employee to perform the duties of their office, or as a member of the body in question, and how much time off is required for them to perform the particular duty;
  • how much time off the employee has already been permitted to take for public duties or trade union duties and activities; and
  • the circumstances of the employer's business and the effect that the employee's absence will have on the running of the business.

Employers should consider the whole circumstances, including the number and frequency of similar periods of time off that they have previously permitted the employee to take.

In the event that an employer refuses a request for time off and the employee brings a claim against it, it will be in a better position to show that the amount of time off was not reasonable if it has evidence that the absence would have had a detrimental effect, than if it simply refused the time off without investigating further.

Altering working hours is unlikely to equate to granting time off and it may be appropriate for the employer to reduce the employee's workload to reflect the time off that it has granted. If employees have to make up the time off in their own time, to complete their workload, they will not have been granted time off under the provisions.