17 to 23 June is the national Festival of Learning (previously Adult Learners’ Week).  Employees of certain sized businesses have a statutory right to request time off for training but it is good practice for all organisations to give thought to professional training and development for their workforce.

What is the statutory right to request time off for training?

The statutory right to request time off for training applies where:

  • an employee has worked for an organisation for at least 26 weeks;
  • the organisation employs 250 or more people; and
  • the training requested is to lead to a qualification relevant to the individual’s job or will otherwise help them develop skills relevant to their work, workplace or business.

An employee can only make one written request per year and must include certain prescribed information including how the training/study will help them do their job better and help their employer’s business.

The regime for handling the request is similar to that for a flexible working request:

  • an employer has 28 days within which to accept the request or arrange a meeting to discuss it;
  • if a meeting is held, a decision must be made within 14 days of the meeting taking place unless the employee agrees to extend that timeframe. Employees have a right to be accompanied at the meeting;
  • a request can be rejected on the grounds that it would not improve the employee’s effectiveness or the performance of the employee’s business or on one of the eight set grounds for rejecting a flexible working request (including, for example, the burden of additional costs or a detrimental impact on quality);
  • an employee has a right to appeal, which should be lodged within 14 days of the decision being made.

A failure to comply with the statutory provisions can give rise to a complaint in the employment tribunal, for which compensation can be ordered up to eight weeks’ pay (capped at the statutory maximum, currently £525 per week).  Employees also have a right not to be subjected to any detriment or dismissed in connection with requests made for study or training.

What about general training and development?

Aside from the statutory right to request time off for training, it is good practice for all organisations to have the professional development of their employees in mind.  Not only does this allow you to grow and develop the skills of your employees and increase resilience and productivity within your workplace but it is also likely to improve morale and your workforce is likely to be more committed and more engaged in their work as well.

As a general principle, employees should receive training appropriate to their role, subject to business need and operational and budgetary considerations.  In many cases, we would expect training needs to be discussed through normal day to day management and an effective appraisal and performance management system should mean that you have a good idea of your employees’ training and professional development needs on an ongoing basis.  Training does not have to come at considerable external expense and you may want to consider:

  • whether you might be able to make use of the apprenticeship levy system to fund the training;
  • on-the-job training so that employees can ‘learn by doing’;
  • bringing external trainers in-house, as this can often bring the associated costs down as well as giving you the opportunity for greater control over the content of the training;
  • tapping into the experience and expertise of your own staff, who may be able to run internal workshops and training sessions;
  • encouraging employees who do attend external training to report back on that training and impart relevant knowledge to colleagues; and
  • making sure that, where external training is the only option, employees give careful thought to and set out the business need for the training.

Do we have to pay employees whilst they are off and fund the training?

The statutory right to request time off for training is a right to request unpaid time off.  However, under the National Minimum Wage Regulations, training which is approved by an employer will count as time work for National Minimum Wage purposes if done during normal working hours.  Where employees are undertaking mandatory training provided by an employer or training requested by an employee but nevertheless approved by an employer, our advice is that that time off should be paid.

There is no obligation on an employer to fund training for any employee, whether falling within the scope of the statutory regime or otherwise.  However, where an employer does agree to fund training, it will often be made subject to a formal training agreement, including clawback provisions in relation to any costs met.  It is important that this agreement is put in place before training starts and that its terms are carefully drafted so that they are enforceable rather than being regarded as unlawful penalty clauses.  It is not the case that an employer can, without limit, automatically demand repayment of all the sums they may have paid.