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Time Off for Public Duties

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The Employment Appeal Tribunal, in Riley-Williams v Argos Ltd, gives guidance for tribunals when deciding whether or not a dismissal is automatically unfair for not permitting an employee to take reasonable time off to sit as a magistrate.

The main points to draw from the decision are:

• tribunals should not consider whether the employer prevented an employee from taking time off, but the extent to which the employer permitted the employee to take time off;

• in deciding what is reasonable, the tribunal must balance the factors listed in section 50(4) of the Employment Rights Act 1996. They are mandatory factors.

• time off for public duties is in a different category to time off for union activities, or time off for personal reasons (such as maternity or parental leave). Thus it is irrelevant to take account of the employer's compassionate leave policy as a factor in determining how much time is reasonable - there is a wider public interest involved for employees who want time off to sit as a magistrate;

• the test of reasonableness is an objective one, balancing out the interests of the employer, the employee and the public. It is incorrect to apply the 'range of reasonable responses' test.