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Paid Leave for Public Office Holders – Tribunal Guidance

Employers are bound to give workers paid leave so that they can hold public office. However, a tribunal has questioned whether it was right for a city mayor to be paid as a school mentor for two years after he devoted himself to politics full time.

The man had stopped working at the school when he became leader of the council and then mayor. However, his local authority employers allowed him to take 208 hours of paid leave annually, paying him about £4,500 per annum. That was the maximum paid leave permitted by the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

After the school became an academy, independent of local authority control, its governors resolved to stop the payments. On the basis that the mayor had provided no services to the school for two years, they took the view that his paid leave ‘appeared to be an inappropriate use of school funds’.

The mayor succeeded in an unfair dismissal claim before an Employment Tribunal (ET), which found that he had been given no chance to have his say and that the procedure followed by the school was ‘woefully deficient’.

However, he was denied a compensatory award on the basis that he had contributed culpably to the termination of his employment and that, had correct procedures been followed by the school, his dismissal would have been fair. The ET found that it was ‘seriously remiss’ of him not to have contacted the school to ascertain whether his election as mayor – a four-year commitment – would make a difference to his paid leave.

In dismissing the mayor’s challenge to that ruling, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that the arrangement was akin to ‘a reverse form of zero hours contract’, in that he was entitled to payments from a publicly funded school without any corresponding obligation to provide his services.

The governors were concerned that, if the arrangement became public, significant criticism might follow and that it would be a ‘public relations disaster’ for the school. They were reasonably entitled to regard the arrangement as inequitable and unsustainable and could fairly have dismissed the mayor.