You are more than likely aware of what the law says about holiday entitlement for workers in the UK.
All full-time workers have the right to a minimum of 5.6 weeks (or 28 days) of paid leave every year. This can include the eight bank holidays and any other business closures that you may have throughout the year, with part-time workers receiving a pro-rata holiday allowance.
In this blog, Guardian Support explores paid time off for dependents, medical emergencies and more. Keep reading to find out what employees’ rights to paid time off are.
Tip: If you are seeking some advice or support in regard to annual leave, please call us on 0845 874 4073.
Introduction to Employees’ Paid Time Off Rights
It is at the employer’s discretion as to when the year begins and ends for annual leave and whether they use an accrual system for employees’ first year of work.
But do your employees have a right to any other paid time off throughout the year, and, as an employer, how do you put these policies in place?
There are a number of reasons why an employee may request time off work outside of their statutory holiday, but there are, currently, no laws in place that state that this time off must be paid or given at all in most circumstances.
As an employer, you are free to make these decisions on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the employee’s attendance, performance and personal situation. However, we do advise that you have clear policies written up and included in your employee handbooks to ensure there is some consistency and common understanding, particularly for each of the following cases:
Paid Time Off for Training
Though employees do not have a legal right to time off for training or studying, they do have a right to request the time off. To make the request, some set requirements must be met, such as the employee having worked for the company for at least 26 weeks, and the company having at least 250 workers.
The employer must also consider whether this training will help the employee with their job and benefit the business before deciding on whether to grant the request. Keep in mind that the time off does not have to be paid.
Alternatively, as an employer, you may decide to send your employees on training courses or to events that are relevant to their work. In these cases, it would be best business practice to offer this as paid time off work, seeing as this is a business decision and would contractually fall within their working role; otherwise, the training should be optional.
Paid Time Off for Bereavement
The UK does not have a broad range of bereavement leave laws, but there is a statutory right to paid time off following a stillbirth or a miscarriage after 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Beyond these allowances, bereavement leave is not an easy thing to access in the UK. However, it is important to take a fair and sympathetic approach to such an issue when it arises in the workplace.
You will need to consider that not only will your employee need time off work to arrange and attend the funeral, but they will also need reasonable time to grieve, especially if they have lost a particularly close friend or family member.
It can be difficult trying to pin down a specific set number of days as there is no one-size-fits-all concerning this issue. ACAS suggests one or two days, and most businesses provide three to five, but it’s such a varying issue (people cope with loss differently) that the best approach to take is probably to have a discussion with the affected employee and come to an agreement at your discretion.
Some may prefer to be at work and stay distracted during difficult times; whereas, others may struggle to focus and be somewhat unproductive, so are better off at home.
You will also need to decide whether you will offer pay during this time off, and, again, you need to consider that some employees may feel pressured to rush back to work before they are ready because they can’t afford an unpaid week off.
As you can see, it is a tricky situation with many variables, which is probably why the government has not been unable to put together a bereavement law.
Tip: Grievance training may benefit any manager who has to deal with these situations.
Paid Time Off for Personal Circumstances
Many personal situations will arise throughout the year for your employees that may require their time during working hours.
One yearly occasion would be employee birthdays, which will often fall on a working day, and understandably do not want to be spent at work. Usually, employees will just book this day off as part of their annual leave; however, many companies now offer birthdays as an additional paid day off on top of your agreed statutory annual leave (look at it as a birthday present).
If you choose not to do this, then, at the very least, it would be best practice not to turn down a request for annual leave when it falls on a birthday where possible, but obviously, operations of the business do need to be considered.
There are also unavoidable medical appointments that crop up from time to time, like those twice-yearly dentist appointments, yearly eye check-ups or occasional GP visits.
Though there are no laws in place stating that employees have a right to time off to attend such appointments, unless it is time off for antenatal appointments. You can encourage employees to book these before/after work or on weekends, but you have to be sympathetic to the fact that scheduling medical appointments outside of working hours can be difficult, and if there is an urgent matter at hand, it can be unavoidable.
It is advised that you include a clear policy on such appointments. This would outline whether or not employees get paid for this time, i.e. leaving work an hour or two earlier, arriving later or popping out for slightly longer at lunchtime. Whether they need to provide you with evidence of the appointment, recoup those hours or provide a certain amount of notice period is completely up to you.
Then there is the case of pregnant employees who usually have between seven and ten antenatal appointments during their pregnancy. They are entitled to reasonable paid time off for said care, including travel time, whilst partners of pregnant women are entitled to unpaid time off to attend two of these appointments
Another personal matter would be funerals or family emergencies (in the case of a child-related emergency, this could fall under time off for dependents). If your employee has a funeral to attend or a sudden illness in the family, whether it is a family member, friend or acquaintance, and they ask to take the day off, the best practice would be to allow them to do so under compassionate leave (e.g. bereavement leave). Again, if this is paid or not is at your discretion.
For all the above situations where there is no legal right to time off. You can advise employees to take it as part of their annual leave, particularly if the time off starts to become extensive.
Unpaid Time Off for Dependants
The only right to time off that all employees have outside of their annual leave and antenatal appointments is the right to time off for the care of dependents.
This usually occurs when there is an unforeseen circumstance or emergency that requires an employee to ask for time off to care for a child or someone they are caring for; such situations may be that their child/dependent has fallen ill or childcare cancels at the last minute.
There is no set limit for this time off, but one or two days is usually sufficient. There is also no requirement for this time off to be paid; however, this is at the employer’s discretion and should be stated in employee handbooks along with when and how time off for dependants must be reported.
As an employer, you also need to consider the boundaries for this time off. For example, if an employee must take their child for an appointment or there is a school closure that they are aware of well in advance, then it is your choice as to whether this can fall under parental leave. If not, then this will need to be made clear in employee handbooks.
Unlike time off for dependants, parental leave is strictly for employees who have parental responsibility for a child under the age of 18.
To be eligible for this time off, said employee must have at least one year’s continuous service. Parental leave is 18 weeks of unpaid leave from work which must be taken in complete weeks (unless the child is disabled). It can be used simply to spend time with a young child, accompany a child during a hospital stay or help a child settle into new childcare arrangements.
There are legislations in place for parental leave, such as employees needing to provide at least 21 days’ notice of their intention to take parental leave, a limit of 4 weeks’ parental leave throughout the year, and employers being able to postpone parental leave for up to 6 months.
However, you are permitted to make your own policy and arrangements, which must be set out in your employee handbooks.
Paid Time Off for Sickness
From time to time, your employees will fall ill and require leave from work because of this and being that it is unavoidable, it’s important that you put together a policy on sickness leave.
Statutory sick pay comes into the picture when an employee has been off work sick for four or more days in a row; however, before that point, there is no legal obligation to pay your employee when they are ill, even if it is only for a day or two.
Many workplaces do have a policy in place that states employees can have a set number of paid sick leave days throughout the year to discourage employees from coming to work when they are ill. The concern with that would be, however, that employees who may not have taken any sick leave might decide to do so at the end of the year even though they are not ill because they know they have an allowance for it.
This is where it is important for you to manage sickness absence – an issue that we can support you with.
If you need support with writing up these policies or deciding on a fair and reasonable approach to these matters, then our HR consultants are here to help. We can provide professional advice and even write up all the documentation for you. Call us on 0845 874 4073 for a complimentary quote for our HR services.