You may have heard recent coverage of the proposals from one political party for employees to have the right to up to 3 paid days off a year for volunteering, provided that they work in the public sector or a private sector employer with 250 or more staff. There is no meat on the bones of the proposal yet, but it might be helpful to have a brief look at the current rights to time off work. The following are the main rights apply for time off work:
- Ante-natal care (with pay), this is well-known, and now a father/partner can attend some ante-natal classes without pay.
- Public Duties: This right covers local councillors, members of Tribunals, Health Boards, JPs, state school governors and others carrying out prescribed public duties. They have the right to a reasonable amount of unpaid time off work in normal working hours. There is no fixed amount of time off, and the employer’s circumstances can be taken into account in deciding what is ‘reasonable’. A failure to allow time off can lead to an Employment Tribunal awarding compensation.
- Paid Time off to look for work or training when under notice of redundancy, provided that the employee has two years’ qualifying service. The right is limited to 40% of weekly pay (e.g. 2 days a week).
- Time off for Trade Union duties. Where a Trade Union is recognised, it would normally be agreed for particular members of staff on account of their position within the Trade Union. There is also a right for time off for trade union learning representatives and Trade Union activities.
- Other rights apply to trustees of occupational pension schemes, and young people for study or training, and emergency leave is available for dependents.
Note that members of the Reserve Forces, retained firefighters, lifeboat crews and special constables do not have any right to time off work for their duties, but with military reservists, there are special rules on mobilisation that act to protect the employment of reservists in regard to being called-up.
How might the proposed right operate, if it were to be put into practice? One might suspect that certain types might ‘volunteer’ asking for paid time off work during, say, the European Football Championships, for a sponsored pub crawl…. Politicians’ promises are not legally enforceable (one fewer thing for lawyers to get stuck into!), but in all likelihood it would be based on current rights to time off and it would probably have the following:
- A service qualification, e.g. 6 months service.
- A formal declaration from the employee that they are ‘volunteering’ for a specific recognised purpose, false statements would be likely to be sackable.
- A system of an employee giving a notice and the employer accepting or rejecting the notice, either postponing leave to another date or an alterative date being agreed.
- A right for the employee to complain to an Employment Tribunal of an unreasonable refusal of leave (with some notional compensation).
- Protection against the employee suffering any detriment for claiming the right.
- A leaver’s notice so that no one can ‘milk’ the system when moving jobs.