Your legal rights as an employee to time off work

Time off Work

The law automatically gives you rights to take time off work in certain circumstances. This time off will not always be paid. This fact sheet is about these automatic rights. Your contract of employment may give you extra rights – check it to see what extra rights you have. If you do not have a written contract of employment, you may still have extra rights which have been verbally agreed with your employer, or which have come about because of the way things are usually done in your workplace.

If you are in one of the following groups of workers, special rules may apply. You should get expert advice about your rights to take time off work:
• workers in inland waterways, lake transport and sea fishermen.
• trainee doctors, members of the armed forces, police, fire-fighters and coastguards.

Time off for holidays
Most workers are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks’ holiday a year. This is called statutory holiday. To work out how many days holiday you can take a year, you need to multiply 5.6 by the number of days you work in a week.

Time off for public duties
If you need to take time off work because you are involved in public duties, your employer must allow you to take a reasonable amount of time off work. You will not be paid for the hours you have missed unless your contract of employment says so, and you do not have to make up the time later on. People involved in public duties include local authority councillors, members of statutory tribunals, school governors, members of police authorities and magistrates.

What is meant by reasonable time off work
When deciding how much time to let you take off for public duties, your employer should take into account:
• how much time you need to take off.
• how much time off you have had in the past.
• the effect your time off will have on the business.

Time off for jury service
If your employer does not want to release you for jury service when you are called, you may be able to postpone your duty but will still have to do it at a later date. You may have to negotiate with your employer to find a time to do your duty that is acceptable to both of you. Your employer does not have to pay you for the time that you take off (unless your employment contract says so) but you can claim money back from the court to make up for some of your financial losses.
Your employer is not legally required to allow you time off for jury service but they could be fined for contempt of court if they refuse you time off. If your employer dismisses you for taking time off to do jury service, you may be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal. There’s a strict time limit for making a claim and you should seek advice straight away – see below.

Time off for study or training
If you are aged 16 or 17, you are entitled to take time off work to study or train for a qualification to help you reach a certain educational standard. You should be allowed a reasonable amount of time off. It should be paid at your normal rate of pay, and does not have to be made up later on. If you are 18, you also have the right to paid time off to complete any studies or training begun before you started work.
If you work for an organisation with more than 250 employees, and you’ve been working for your employer for at least 26 weeks, you have the right to ask for time off work to do training. You can find out more about this on the Directgov website at:, by searching for Time to train.

Time off to have a baby
Time off work to have a baby is called maternity leave. Most women employees have the right to take up to one year’s (52 weeks’) maternity leave. This does not depend on how long you have worked for your employer. You may get paid for some or all of your maternity leave, although you might not get the same rate of pay as usual. This depends on how long you’ve worked for your employer, how much you earn and what your employment contract says.

Time off for fathers and civil partners
If you are the father of a new born baby, you may be entitled to take up to two weeks paid leave after the birth. This is called paternity leave. If you are the civil partner of the mother of a new born baby, you can also take paternity leave. You must have been employed by the same employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due. This leave will be paid but may not be paid at your usual rate, depending on your contract of employment. You may also be able to share your partner’s maternity leave if they do not use it all and return to work.

Time off when you adopt a child
You may be entitled to time off work when you adopt a child. This is called Statutory Adoption Leave (SAL). To qualify for SAL, you must have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks before you are told you have been matched with your child.
Statutory adoption leave lasts for up to 52 weeks. This is made up of ordinary adoption leave, which lasts for 26 weeks, and additional adoption leave, which lasts for a further 26 weeks. If you are in a couple, only one of you may take SAL, but if your partner is taking SAL, you can take two weeks’ paternity leave instead. However, if your partner does not take all their leave, you may be able to share it.
This right applies to both heterosexual and same-sex couples. You may not be paid at your usual rate. This depends on your contract of employment.

Time off to look after your child
If you have a child who is under five, you have the right to take time off work to look after them. This is called Parental leave. You must have worked for your employer for at least one year before you can take this leave. You can take up to 18 weeks off. The leave will not be paid unless your contract of employment says it will. This leave does not have to be taken all at the same time, but you should take it in one week blocks. Your employer may be able to limit you to taking no more than four weeks for each child in any one year. You will not have to make the time up later on.

Time off for emergencies
You are entitled to take reasonable time off work to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies involving close family members, or other people who depend on you. This time off will not be paid, unless your contract of employment says it will, but you do not have to make it up later on. You can take time off, for example, when:
• someone falls ill, or is injured
• someone dies
• care arrangements for someone suddenly break down
• you need to deal with an unexpected incident involving your child at their school.

A close family member usually means a child, husband, wife, civil partner, cohabiting partner or parent. Someone who depends on you may be anyone else who lives with you (other than a lodger, tenant or boarder), or someone who relies on you, such as an elderly or disabled relative or neighbour. This right does not only apply in a sudden and unexpected emergency. It will depend on the circumstances of each case. Your employer should look at the amount of time between you becoming aware of the risk of a problem and the problem actually happening. Your employer should allow you to take the time off you feel you need to deal with the emergency. This may be only a day or two, but could be longer. If you think your employer is being unreasonable, see below.

Time off to visit the doctor or dentist
Your employer may allow you time off work to visit the doctor or dentist but they are not legally required to do so unless your contract of employment says they are. Your employer can, for example, insist that you make these visits outside work hours, that you take holiday leave or that you make the time up later on. You should check your contract of employment to see what rights you have to take time off for doctors or dental appointments.
Pregnant women, however, are allowed reasonable paid time off work for ante-natal care. This time does not need to be made up later on. If you are disabled and your employer will not let you take time off for a medical appointment connected with your disability, they could be breaking the law. You should get help from an experienced adviser such as Citizens Advice Bureaux

Your employer won’t let you take time off
If your employer won’t let you take time off that you think you are entitled to, you could try to persuade them to change their mind. You could get help from a trade union representative if you have one, a personnel officer, or an experienced adviser (see below). If this doesn’t work, you should raise a written grievance with your employer, and, if you need to take matters further, make a claim to an employment tribunal. You should think carefully before doing either of these things, as it might have a negative effect on your relationship with your employer, and could put your job at risk. There are strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal, and you should check that these do not run out before you make your claim.

Your employer dismisses you for taking time off
If you are an employee, your employer should not dismiss you for taking time off work unless they have first gone through a dismissal and disciplinary procedure. You are unlikely to be an employee if you are a subcontractor, freelancer or casual worker. If your employer does dismiss you for taking time off, talk to an experienced adviser straight away (see below). The adviser may be able to persuade your employer to take you back. If this doesn’t work, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal. If you are dismissed because of maternity leave, you may be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal for unfair dismissal and either maternity discrimination or sex discrimination.

Time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal
There’s a strict time limit for making a claim to an employment tribunal. This is usually three months minus one day from the date when the thing you are complaining about last happened. The Acas early conciliation scheme starts on 6 April 2014 and will apply to most employment tribunal claims. It affects the time limit and is compulsory from 6 May 2014. You should get specialist advice to help you work out the time limit for your claim. You may need to get help from an experienced adviser to make sure you don’t miss the deadline.

Further help
Citizens Advice Bureau
Citizens Advice Bureaux give free, confidential, impartial and independent advice to help you solve problems. To find your nearest CAB, including those that give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB, or look under C in your phone book.

This information is taken from Citizens Advice Bureaux fact sheet. Click the link to visit the website – – where you can download an up-to-date copy.

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