Q: I own a small bakery and employ a member of staff who wants to become a Magistrate. I am very worried that she will constantly want time off work and I am unsure what I am allowed to do and whether I can refuse to allow her time off.
A: The law states that employees who hold certain public appointments are entitled to reasonable unpaid time off to undertake their duties. A Magistrate would fall within the category of worker who has this right.
The key point however is that time off must be reasonable. Factors to be taken into account include the nature of the work, the size of your business, the amount of time required and the likely effect on your business. Each case must be assessed on its own merits.
It would be sensible to sit down with your employee now to discuss her expectations and what will be required of her in terms of time off. You could also approach HM Courts & Tribunals Service or your local court. Once you know the likely time requirements you should then consult with your employee and try to reach agreement over a realistic and workable plan for time off. You are not, however, obliged to pay her for time off work for such duties and if you have not already done so you should ensure that she is fully aware of this and consider including it in your staff handbook.
If an employer unreasonably refuses time off work for public duties or if an employee is dismissed for asserting the right to time off, the employee will be able to bring a claim for automatically unfair dismissal. It would therefore be advisable for you to seek appropriate legal advice before making any decisions regarding this issue.