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Time off work - overview

The law gives you the right to take time off work in certain circumstances. You might not be paid for this time off.

Your contract of employment might give you additional rights to the ones listed on this page - check it to see.

If you don’t have a written contract of employment, you might still have extra rights. This might have been verbally agreed with your employer, or come about because of the way things are done in your workplace.

You should get expert advice if you're in one of the following groups, because special rules might apply to you:

  • trainee doctors
  • members of the armed forces
  • police
  • firefighters and coastguards
  • workers in inland waterways
  • lake transport workers
  • sea fishermen

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’re involved in public duties, for example as a magistrate, local councillor or school governor, your employer must allow you to take a reasonable amount of time off work.

You won’t be paid for the hours you’ve missed unless your contract of employment says so, and you don’t have to make up the time later on.

Time off for jury service

Your employer isn’t legally required to give you time off for jury service, but they could be fined for contempt of court if they refuse.

If your employer doesn’t want to release you for jury service when you’re called, you might be able to postpone your duty - you’ll still have to do it at a later date.

You can try to negotiate with your employer to find a time to do your duty that is better for both of you.

Your employer doesn’t have to pay you for the time that you take off (unless your employment contract says so). You'll be able to claim money back from the court to make up for some of your financial losses.

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.

Time off for study or training

If you’re 16 or 17, you’re entitled to take time off work to study or train for a qualification. You should be allowed a reasonable amount of time off. It should be paid at your normal rate of pay, and doesn’t have to be made up later on.

If you’re 18 or over, you have the right to paid time off to complete any studies or training begun before you started work. If you've been working somewhere with more than 250 employees for more than 26 weeks, you can ask for unpaid time off work to do training.

Time off to have a baby

Time off work to have a baby is called maternity leave. Most women have the right to take up to a year (52 weeks) of maternity leave. It doesn't matter how long you've worked for your employer.

You might get maternity pay from your employer or maternity allowance from the government during your maternity leave. Check if you’re eligible for maternity pay or maternity allowance.

Time off for fathers and partners of new mothers

If you’re the father of a newborn baby or the husband or partner of a new mother, you are entitled to take up to 2 weeks’ paid leave after the birth. This is called 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 might not be paid at your usual rate - check your contract of employment.

Shared parental leave

If you’re expecting a baby, or having a child placed with you for adoption, you will be able to share your maternity leave and pay with your partner. You'll be able to share up to 50 weeks’ leave and up to 37 weeks’ pay.

Time off when you adopt a child

You'll be entitled to time off work when you adopt a child. This is called Statutory Adoption Leave (SAL). SAL lasts for up to 52 weeks.

If you’re in a couple, only one of you can take SAL. If your partner is taking SAL, you can take 2 weeks' paternity leave instead. If your partner doesn’t take all their leave, you might be able to share it. This applies to both heterosexual and same-sex couples. You may not be paid at your usual rate - check your contract of employment.

Time off to look after your child

If you have a child who is under 18, 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 a year before you can take this leave.

The leave won’t be paid unless your contract of employment says so. You don't have to take this leave all at the same time, but you should take it in 1 week blocks.

You can take up to 18 weeks off for each child you have before they’re 18, but your employer can limit you to taking no more than 4 weeks off for each child in a year.

Time off for emergencies

You’re entitled to take reasonable time off work to deal with unexpected problems or emergencies with close family members, or other people who depend on you. This is sometimes called ‘dependant leave’.

You won’t be paid unless your contract of employment says so, but you don’t have to make it up later on. There is no set amount of time you can take off as it depends on the situation. You can take time off, for example, when:

  • someone gets 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 can be anyone 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.

Time off to visit the doctor or dentist

Your employer might give you time off work to visit the doctor or dentist but they’re not legally required to do so unless your contract of employment says so. Your employer can insist you make these visits outside work hours, take holiday leave or 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 are allowed reasonable paid time off work for ante-natal care - you won’t need to make it up later.

If you’re disabled and your employer won’t let you take time off for a medical appointment connected with your disability, they could be discriminating against you. You should get help from an experienced adviser.

Time off for other reasons

Your employer doesn’t have to give you time off for other reasons. However, if you think they’re not giving you time off because of who you are, you may be being discriminated against.

For example, if you’re a single parent and your employer refused you time off for a child’s doctor’s appointment, you might be being discriminated against. You should get help from an experienced adviser.

If your employer won't let you take time off

You should have an informal conversation first. Explain why you need the time off. You could get help to make your case from a trade union rep if you have one or someone from your HR team.

If this doesn't work, you should raise a written grievance with your employer.

If you need to take matters further, you can make a claim to an employment tribunal.

There are strict time limits for making a claim to an employment tribunal - you should check that these haven’t ran out before you make your claim.

Your employer dismisses you or treats you unfairly for taking time off

If you’re an employee, your employer can’t dismiss you or treat you unfairly for taking time off work when you have a right to do so. If you’re a subcontractor, freelancer or casual worker you're unlikely to be an employee, so you should seek advice from an experienced adviser.

If your employer does dismiss you for taking time off, you should get help from an experienced adviser.

The adviser may be able to persuade your employer to take you back. If this doesn't work, you might be able to make a claim to an employment tribunal.

If you’re dismissed because of maternity leave, you might 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 3 months minus one day from the date the problem happened.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) early conciliation scheme applies to most employment tribunal claims and affects the time limit.

You should get help from an experienced adviser to make sure you don't miss the deadline.

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