Acas uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience and to make the site simpler. Find out more about cookies.

Website URL :

Section 4 - The responsibilities of employers and trade unions

Employers, trade unions, union representatives and line managers should work together to ensure that time off provisions, including training, operate effectively and for mutual benefit. Union representatives need to be able to communicate with management, each other, their trade union and employees. To do so they need to be able to use appropriate communication media and other facilities.

General considerations

42. The amount and frequency of time off should be reasonable in all the circumstances. Although the statutory provisions apply to all employers without exception as to size and type of business or service, trade unions should be aware of the wide variety of difficulties and operational requirements to be taken into account when seeking or agreeing arrangements for time off, for example:

  • the size of the organisation and the number of workers
  • the production process
  • the need to maintain a service to the public
  • the need for safety and security at all times.

43. Employers in turn should have in mind the difficulties for trade union representatives and members in ensuring effective representation and communications with, for example:

  • shift workers
  • part-time workers
  • home workers
  • teleworkers or workers not working in a fixed location
  • those employed at dispersed locations
  • workers with particular domestic commitments including those on leave for reasons of maternity, paternity or care responsibilities
  • workers with special needs such as disabilities or language 

44. For time off arrangements to work satisfactorily trade unions should:

  • ensure that union representatives are aware of their role, 
    responsibilities and functions
  • inform management, in writing, as soon as possible of appointments or resignations of union representatives
  • ensure that union representatives receive any appropriate written credentials promptlyensure that employers receive details of the functions of union 
    representatives where they carry out special duties or functions.

45. Employers should ensure that, where necessary, work cover and/or  work load reductions are provided when time off is required. This can include the allocation of duties to other employees, rearranging work to a different time or a reduction in workloads.

46. While there is no statutory right for facilities for union representatives, except for representatives engaged in duties related to collective redundancies and the Transfer of Undertakings, employers should, where practical, make available to union representatives the facilities necessary for them to perform their duties efficiently and communicate effectively with their members, colleague union representatives and full-time officers. Where resources permit the facilities should include:

  • accommodation for meetings which could include provision for Union Learning Representatives and a union member(s) to meet to discuss relevant training matters
  • access to a telephone and other communication media used or permitted in the workplace such as email, intranet and internet
  • the use of noticeboards
  • where the volume of the union representative's work justifies it, the use of dedicated office space
  • confidential space where an employee involved in a grievance or 
    disciplinary matter can meet their representative or to discuss other
    confidential matters
  • access to members who work at a different location
  • access to e-learning tools where computer facilities are available.

47. When using facilities provided by the employer for the purposes of communication with their members or their trade union, union representatives must comply with agreed procedures both in respect of the use of such facilities and also in respect of access to and use of company information. The agreed procedures will be either those agreed between the union and the employer as part of an agreement on time off (see section 6) or comply with general rules applied to all employees in the organisation. In particular, union representatives must respect and maintain the confidentiality of information they are given access to where, the disclosure would seriously harm the functioning of, or would be prejudicial to, the employer's business interests. The disclosure of information for collective bargaining purposes is covered by the Acas Code of Practice on that topic. Union representatives should understand that unauthorised publication risks damaging the employer's business, straining relations with the representative body concerned, possible breaches of individual contracts of employment and, in extreme cases such as unauthorised publication of price-sensitive information, the commission of criminal offences.

48. Union representatives will have legitimate expectations that they and their members are entitled to communicate without intrusion in the form of monitoring by their employer. Rules concerning the confidentiality of communications involving union representatives should be agreed between the employer and the union. Guidance on this is set out in paragraphs 49 and 57 below.

49. Employers must respect the confidential and sensitive nature of communications between union representatives and their members and trade union. They should not normally carry out regular or random monitoring of union emails. Only in exceptional circumstances may employers require access to communications but such access should be subject to the general rules set out in statute and the Employment Practices Code issued by the Information Commissioner's Office. In the context of the Data Protection Act 1998 whether a person is a member of a trade union or not is defined as sensitive personal data. This also applies to data concerning individuals, for example communications concerned with possible or actual grievance and disciplinary issues. There are therefore very strict provisions on how such data can be used and monitored in compliance with the law.

Requesting time off

50.  Trade union representatives and members requesting time off to pursue their duties or activities or to access the services of a Union Learning Representative should provide management, especially their line manager, with as much notice as practically possible concerning:

  • the purpose of such time off, while preserving personal confidential 
    information relating to individuals in grievance or disciplinary matters
  • the intended location
  • the timing and duration of time off required.

51. Union representatives should minimise business disruption by being prepared to be as flexible as possible in seeking time off in circumstances where the immediate or unexpected needs of the business make it difficult for colleagues or managers to provide cover for them in their absence. Equally employers should recognise the mutual obligation to allow union representatives to undertake their duties.

52. In addition, union representatives who request paid time off to undergo relevant training should:

  • give at least a few weeks' notice to management of nominations for 
    training courses
  • provide details of the contents of the training course.

53.When deciding whether requests for paid time off should be granted, consideration would need to be given as to their reasonableness, for example to ensure adequate cover for safety or to safeguard the production process or the provision of service. Consideration should also be given to allowing Union Learning Representatives access to a room in which they can discuss training in a confidential manner with an employee. Similarly, managers and unions should seek to agree a mutually convenient time which minimises the effect on production or services. Where workplace meetings are requested, consideration should be given to holding them, for example:

  • towards the end of a shift or the working week
  • before or after a meal break.

54. For their part line managers should be familiar with the rights and duties of union representatives regarding time off. They should be encouraged to take reasonable steps as necessary in the planning and management of representatives' time off and the provision of cover or work load reduction, taking into account the legitimate needs of such union representatives to discharge their functions and receive training efficiently and effectively.

55. Employers need to consider each application for time off on its merits; they should also consider the reasonableness of the request in relation to agreed time off already taken or in prospect.

Previous ArticleNext Article