It's the law: Time off for public duties

If they employ JPs or councillors, for example, organisations should be aware of their obligations.

Although charities can require employees to attend work and do their duties during normal working hours, there is one important exception: under the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employer is obliged to permit employees to take time off to perform certain public duties.

Public duties include those performed as a justice of the peace (a magistrate), a member of a local authority, a member of the managing or governing body of an educational establishment, a member of a board of prison visitors or a member of the Environment Agency.

How much time off an employer must grant depends on what is reasonable in the circumstances. This is determined by the amount of time that is required for the performance of the public duty, how much time off has already been permitted and the circumstances of the business - in particular, the impact of the employee's absence on the operation of that business.

The law is silent on whether employees are entitled to be paid for time off for public duties, so that is at the employer's discretion. Charities should adopt a consistent approach to paying employees for time off for public duties, or they risk discrimination claims.

Interestingly, there is no statutory requirement on an employer to grant time off for jury service. However, preventing a person from acting as a juror is a contempt of court, so it is likely that it is an implied term of any employment contract that an employee will be allowed time off to attend court as a juror. Similar logic would apply to court witnesses. Jury service is unpaid, although jurors are entitled to claim various expenses, including lost earnings or benefits (but only up to a maximum of £58.38 per day).

This area of the law is currently under review by the Department of Trade and Industry, partly because it is felt that it is too complicated. The department has indicated that it will issue guidance to employers on how to interpret it in the next year.


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