AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Time off for public duties

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Time off for public duties

You have the right to time off for certain public duties and services. These include jury service and activities as a member of some public sector organisations. Your rights vary depending on what you do and what the duty or service is.

Do you qualify?

Under the law, you're allowed time off for public duties if you're an employee (for more information, see our 'Employees, workers and the self-employed' article) and hold a public office or function that's covered in the Employment Rights Act 1996 or, for employees in Northern Ireland, the Employment Rights (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. Some examples of the types of office covered are:

  • A magistrate, sometimes known as a justice of the peace
  • A member of a local authority, police authority, local education authority, educational governing body, health authority or primary care trust
  • A member of any statutory tribunal, an environmental agency, or of the boards of prison visitors
The Department for Business Innovation & Skills in England and Wales and the Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland have a complete list of the types of office which are entitled to time off.

If you are any of these, you're allowed reasonable time off to go to meetings or to carry out your duties, but this must be agreed with your employer beforehand. The amount of time off you may take is not laid down in law and your employer can refuse your request if it is unreasonable.

Time off for public duties won't be available if you are any of the following:

  • An agency worker that isn't classified as an employee
  • A member of the police service or armed forces
  • Employed on a gas or oil rig at sea
  • A merchant seaman
  • Employed on a fishing vessel
  • A civil servant whose public duties are connected to political activities restricted under the terms of your employment
What is meant by 'reasonable' time off?

Whether your time off is classed as 'reasonable' depends on:

  • What the duties are
  • The time needed to carry them out
  • The impact on your employer's business
  • How much time off you have already had for public duties or trade union duties
Other types of public duties

Many employers are keen to show a commitment to social responsibility and allow time off for employees who are in organisations like the special constabulary or Territorial Army. However, your employer doesn't have to grant this time. Territorial Army members have special employment protection if called up.

Should you be paid for time off?

Your employer doesn't have to pay you while you take time off for public duties, although many do. Your contract of employment will normally say whether you're paid for this time off. You should be given a document setting out your key terms of employment within two months of starting work.

Jury service

Trial by jury is a key part of our legal system and our democratic way of life. Jury service is an important responsibility for all citizens. Jury duty is not covered by the 'right to time off for public duties' but has separate protection. This applies regardless of whether you are an employee, worker or self-employed.

Does your employer have to give you time off for jury service?

If you're up for jury service, your employer must allow you time off for this. If they don't, they could be in contempt of court. If you're an employee, you have the right not to be treated unfairly because of your call-up (for example, not being considered for promotion).

Payment

Your employer does not have to pay you whilst you are on jury service. But you can claim for travel and food expenses and for loss of earnings from the court. You need to get your employer to fill out a Certificate of Loss of Earnings to claim for loss of earnings. However, there are limits on the amount that you can claim.

Deferring or not attending jury service

You can ask for your jury service to be deferred. You can only do this once and for no more than 12 months from the original date. If you want to be excluded from jury service altogether, you need to write to the Jury Central Summoning Bureau setting out your reasons why. However, unless you've already served as a juror within the previous two years, your call-up is likely to be deferred.

How long does jury service last?

Jury service usually lasts for 10 days, but some trials take longer. Jurors are usually warned in advance if a trial is expected to last a long time.

Unfair dismissal

If you're sacked because you've been called up for or have done jury service, you can claim unfair dismissal. However, if your employer told you your absence would have a serious effect on their business and you didn't ask for your call-up to be deferred or to be excused, the dismissal is likely to be fair.

What to do next

If you have public duties or have been called up for jury service you should:

  • Let your employer know how long you'll need off and what arrangements need to be made for cover in your absence
  • Hand over a copy of the Confirmation of Jury Service letter you receive from the court to your employer
If your employer stops you taking time off for public duties you should first of all follow the grievance procedure outlined in your contract.