Employers must consider financial requests for training, not just time off

Workers will have the right to ask their employer to pay for any external training under the new time off for training legislation, due to come into effect next week.

The Apprenticeship, Skills, Children and Learning Act, which becomes law on 6 April, provides employees with a statutory right to request time off for training.

The legislation, which initially covers organisations with more than 250 staff, provides a “statutory right to make a request in relation to study or training”, but does not prohibit staff making a request for their employer to fund a course – which could be undertaken outside of work hours – or to pay for support materials such as textbooks.

For more information about the statutory right to make a request for study and training, go to the XpertHR guides.

John Read, an employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “A close reading of the relevant legislation reveals there is no requirement for a statutory request to be for time off, or indeed for time at all. The request must simply be ‘for the purpose of enabling the employee to undertake study or training’, and the purpose of that training must be to improve the employee’s effectiveness in the business, or the performance of the business itself.

“It follows that a purely financial request – for example, for an employer to pay for an employee’s college fees or textbooks – will fall within the new statutory provisions, and (provided of course that the employee meets the qualifying criteria), the employer will be obliged to consider it.”

Read warned employers could face tribunal claims if they failed to fully consider a request – and possibly payouts of up to eight weeks’ pay. “Employers should be careful not to disregard requests out of hand just because they don’t refer to ‘time’ – or they could end up in a tribunal,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) confirmed: “If a request is for funding only, that can be considered and is within the scope of the legislation.”

“The employer is not obliged to agree to requests for training or funding if there is a good business reason for turning it down, but will be expected to consider all requests seriously.”

BIS said it planned to review the reasons available to employers for rejecting requests ahead of the legislation being extended to cover all firms in April 2011.

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