Time off for public duties

You have the right to time off for certain public duties and services. Your rights vary depending on what you do and what the duty or service is.

Qualifying for time off for public duties

Under the law, you are allowed time off for public duties if you're an 'employee' and one of the following:

  • a magistrate, sometimes known as a justice of the peace
  • a member of a local authority, police authority or district policing partnership, local education authority, educational governing body, health authority or primary care trust
  • a member of any statutory tribunal or of the boards of prison visitors

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

  • an agency worker
  • 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

The amount of time off you get

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

Getting 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.

Other types of public duties

Many employers are keen to show they are socially responsible 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

If called up, members of the Territorial Army have special employment protection.

Jury service

Your employer must allow you time off for jury service.

What you should do next

If you have public duties you should let your employer know how long you'll need off and what arrangements need to be made for cover in your absence. If your employer stops you taking time off for public duties you should first of all follow the grievance procedure outlined in your contract.

Where you can you get help

The Labour Relations Agency and Advice NI offer free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues for residents of Northern Ireland.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them.

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