Employees now have a legal right to request time off work to undertake training to improve their effectiveness at work and the performance of their employer's business. Emilie Bennetts explains what this means for employers.
One of my employees has requested time off work to attend a training course. Do I have to agree to this request? Do I have to pay for the course? What are my obligations?
Only employees who have worked for an employer for 26 weeks will be eligible to make a request, except for agency workers and those of compulsory school age. The right will be extended to cover employees in businesses of all sizes in April 2011.
The employee's request must include details of the subject matter of the study or training, how long it will last, who would provide it or supervise it and whether it would lead to a qualification, as well as how the employee thinks it would make them more effective and improve the performance of the employer's business. An employee can make only one request every 12 months.
Employers are expected to seriously consider any request and to respond to it in a reasonable time period. They can turn down a request if they have a sound business reason for doing so - for example, if the business could not service its customers properly, or if the employee's work could not be reorganised among existing staff.
The new right will closely follow the existing model for the right employees have to request flexible working, which should make it easier for employers to incorporate it into their business because they should follow the same process in considering the request. This includes meeting with the employee, writing to them with a decision within 14 days of the meeting and allowing the employee a right of appeal.
- Consider seriously all the valid requests you receive, using processes similar to those you should already have in place to consider requests for flexible working.
- Decline requests only where you have a sound business reason to do so, or where you do not believe that the training requested by your employee will help you improve the performance of your business.
- Meet all your employees regularly to assess their training needs. This will ensure you are well placed to meet the requirements of the new right without making significant changes to your working practices.
- You do not necessarily have to pay the employee for the time off or for the training itself, although if you recognise the value of the investment you may well choose to do so. If you do decide to pay for the training, you may wish to ask the employee to agree to certain criteria - for example, that they must stay in your employment for a certain amount of time after the training has finished, or reimburse you for the cost of the training if they leave before this time has lapsed.
- Ensure that any pay policy is implemented consistently to avoid claims of discrimination.
An employee may complain to an employment tribunal in two specific circumstances - where the employer has failed to comply with its duties concerning the consideration of a request, including procedural requirements, and where the employer's decision to refuse a request, or part of it, was based on incorrect facts.
An employment tribunal will make a declaration where it finds a complaint to be well founded and may require the employer to reconsider the request. It may also make an award of compensation of up to eight weeks' pay to the employee.
Emilie Bennetts is a solicitor at Charles Russell