Every employee has certain basic rights in UK employment law, which we discuss in a series of blog posts.

The next right in our series is the right to take time off work. But we also consider when the employee doesn’t have this right and when the employer has the right to keep you off work.

Types of time off work

As an employee, you are entitled to the following kinds of time off work:

  • Holiday leave – All workers (whether employee or not) are entitled to paid annual leave. Currently, it is at least 5.6 weeks (28 days per year for full timers).
  • Bank and public holidays – You are not entitled to time off for bank and public holidays – this is counted in the statutory holiday entitlement.
  • Sickness – Employees are entitled to at least statutory sick pay plus any additional pay that is agreed in the employment contract if off work because they are unwell. But contrary to popular belief there is no entitlement to time off work. You can be dismissed for it in your first two years of employment. After that you can only be dismissed if it’s considered reasonable by a tribunal. Staff with medical conditions may have additional rights as ‘disabled’ employees.
  • Lay offs and short time working – If an employer runs out of work temporarily it can either reduce working hours or dismiss for redundancy. In both the cases employees are entitled to guaranteed payments.
  • Official duties – Employees have the right to take unpaid work off to perform duties as a trade union representative, juror, councillor etc. There is no such right when it comes to military service, eg for reservists.
  • Job-seeking – Employees may take (paid) to look for a job if being laid off because of redundancy.
  • Childcare – Employees may take time off to look after a child or dependant but this is unpaid.
  • Christmas Day – Most employers close on the Christmas day but there is no entitlement to this. It comes out of statutory holiday entitlements.
  • Rest breaks – All workers have the right to take rest breaks while working. There is the right to have 20 minutes’ rest (unpaid) after 6 hours of work, plus rights not to work too many hours in succession or per week.

If an employer does not provide staff with the time off work to which they are entitled, employees may lodge an employment tribunal case and in some cases resign claiming unfair constructive dismissal.


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