Time off work

Time off work – your legal entitlement

You would have thought that regulations relating to time off work and your legal rights would be fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, it can be a little complicated in some scenarios. There are also some occasions where it is optional as to whether your employer is obliged to give you time off work. This is before we even begin to look at the subject of paid/unpaid leave.

We will now take a look at the statutory regulations regarding time off work and whether this is paid or unpaid. You may have additional rights, above and beyond those listed below, if:-

  • These are detailed in your employment contract
  • You have a verbal arrangement with your employer

Legally, a written contract and a verbal contract have the same power in a court of law. The difficulty can be proving what was said and what was agreed; therefore it is advisable to get everything confirmed in writing.

Employment status

There are three different types of employment status which are:-

  • Employee
  • Worker
  • Self-employed

While there may be some exceptions to the rule, an employee and a worker are eligible to statutory holiday entitlement. On the whole, those providing services on a self-employed basis are not normally entitled to statutory holidays.

Statutory time off for holidays

Under employment regulations you are entitled to a minimum level of paid holidays per annum, dependent on how many days a week you work. The following table shows you the relevant entitlements:-

Working days per week Holiday entitlement per annum
5 or more 28 days
4 22.4 days
3 16.8 days
2 11.2 days
1 5.6 days

These are the minimum statutory holiday entitlements depending upon your working week. You will sometimes see employers enhancing holiday entitlements, often based on length of service. If your contract stipulates holiday entitlement less than the above statutory figures, it is unenforceable.

Time off work to carry out public duties

If you are involved in public duties, which may clash with your working hours, your employer is legally obliged to give you a “reasonable amount of leave”. The typical types of public duties include:-

  • Councillor
  • School governor
  • Magistrate

As a rule of thumb, you will not be paid for the hours missed in the workplace as a consequence of your public duties. However, on occasion, your employment contract may stipulate payment for time off for public duties. Or you may arrange to make up lost time at a later date.

Time off work for jury service

The subject of jury service is a little more complicated than many of us might assume. On one hand, your employer is not obliged to give you time off. While on the other hand, they could be fined for contempt of court if they refuse. Confused?

There are occasions where releasing you for jury duty could cause serious problems in the workplace. As a consequence, your employer can ask you to formally apply for your jury duty to be postponed until a later date. This is not a means of avoiding jury duty, but more a means of finding a mutually suitable time for all parties.

When it comes to payment and expenses, the situation is relatively straightforward:-

  • Unless stated in your employment contract, your employer is not obliged to pay you for time off on jury duty
  • You will be able to claim expenses from the court although these won’t necessarily cover your loss of earnings

There are limits as to the level of daily expenses you can claim as a consequence of jury duty:-

  • A maximum of £64.95 per day towards loss of earnings, childcare and unusual arrangements
  • Up to £5.71 per day for food and drink
  • Travel costs to and from the court

As a consequence of these limited expenses, it is not inconceivable that you could be significantly out of pocket with a long court case.

Unfair dismissal as a consequence of jury duty

On occasion employers may take issue with their employees when it comes to time taken off for jury duty. Unfortunately, some of these disputes have resulted in dismissal for the employee. However, there are some issues to take into consideration:-

  • If you are sacked for fulfilling your jury duty obligations, this is deemed “automatically unfair”. As a consequence, you may be able to challenge your dismissal and sue your employer.
  • If you refused to postpone your jury duty, after a request from your employer, dismissal would not be deemed “automatically unfair”. Your employer has a right to ask you to change your jury duty dates, if you fail to do so then you could be dismissed.

It is important to seek legal advice if you find yourself dismissed as a consequence of your jury duty obligations. The longer you leave it, the less chance of a successful prosecution. Time is of the essence.

Time off work for study/training

The regulations regarding study/training for employees aged 18 or over are very clear. As long as you can show the qualification you would like to gain would improve your contribution in the workplace, you can ask for unpaid time off. While many employers will encourage their employees, especially younger ones, to expand their qualifications and experience, they are not legally obliged to give you any time off, even unpaid.

To be automatically eligible for unpaid study/training leave you need to:-

  • Work for a company with more than 250 employees
  • Have worked there for more than 26 weeks

If we look at this from an employer’s point of view, a relatively small company could be impacted by employees taking unpaid leave for study/training. In reality, many employers will encourage employees to expand their qualifications and experience. The idea is simple, they will benefit from the improved work output in the future.

Time off work for parental responsibilities

The subject of maternity and paternity pay is somewhat controversial, with equal rights for all parents leading to significant changes in regulations. You or your partner should be entitled to paid time off for:-

  • Paternity leave
  • Maternity leave
  • Shared parental responsibilities
  • Adoption responsibilities

It is highly likely you would qualify for unpaid time off work to:-

  • Look after your children
  • Attend antenatal appointments

At first glance, these basic regulations seem less than generous. However, as we mentioned above, these are your basic employment rights regarding time off work. In reality the majority of employers would be more sympathetic where babies, children and extended family are concerned.

Time off work for emergencies

The subject of dependent leave is relatively straightforward, although it would be unpaid. These unexpected problems/emergencies requiring time off work would need to involve close family members such as:-

  • Children
  • Husband
  • Wife
  • Civil partner
  • Cohabiting partner
  • Parent
  • Other dependent

Some of the more common emergencies which come under these regulations include:-

  • Illness/injury
  • Death
  • Disruption of care arrangements
  • Child issues at school

While unlikely, some employers can insert clauses into employment contracts which guarantee a level of pay for those forced to take emergency leave. On occasion, you could agree with your employer to make up time at a later date. There is no minimum/maximum statutory length of leave for emergencies – this will be agreed with your employer on a case-by-case basis.

Time off work for medical treatment

When seeking leave for medical treatment, such as a visit to the doctor or dentist, there are some issues to take into consideration:-

  • Your employer is not legally obliged to give you time off
  • Your employer can insist you arrange such treatment outside of working hours
  • On occasion you may be forced to take time off as part of your annual leave
  • Some employers will allow you to make up lost time at a later date

Over the years we have seen issues of discrimination, specifically when it comes to those with disabilities who require medical services. While not an open and shut case, if an employer refuses a disabled employee time off work for medical services, they may leave themselves open to legal action.

Refusal of time off

The vast majority of employers will be sympathetic to those who require time off for a range of different reasons. If you require paid or unpaid leave, it is advisable to speak with your employer and discuss your situation in more detail as soon as possible.

On occasion when you believe your employer has been unfair, you could take advice from a trade union rep or raise a formal grievance. While these scenarios are uncommon where “reasonable” leave is requested, they can occur from time to time.

Protection from dismissal

On occasion, an employer may be frustrated or angry that you requested time off work which they were legally obliged to allow. Due to an array of recent legislation to protect employees, you cannot be dismissed or disadvantaged in the workplace for taking leave which you were perfectly entitled to request. If you have been dismissed/disadvantaged by your employer you should:-

  • Take legal advice
  • Seek informal discussions with your employer
  • Escalate to formal discussions if unsuccessful
  • Make a claim via an employment tribunal

It is uncommon that a request for statutory leave would lead to dismissal/disadvantage in the workplace. However, on the rare occasion disputes do escalate, it is worth noting the raft of legal protection afforded to employees.


We have tiptoed through what can be a minefield of rules and regulations regarding paid and unpaid leave from work. Remember, the above regulations are the statutory minimum and many employers will provide enhanced access to paid/unpaid leave.

It is important to check your contract of employment, to clarify company policy on different types of leave. If it is unclear what time off work you can take, you can always request written confirmation from your employer.