One of my employees has asked to take time off work for his part-time degree, which he thinks will help him at work, and expects my company to pay for it. I’m not completely disagreeable to the suggestion, but am I obliged to agree?
You are not obliged to agree. However, as of 6 April 2010, qualifying employees of organisations with 250 or more employees have the right to make a statutory request in relation to study or training. If you employ at least 250 people, the employee has at least 26 weeks’ continuous service, and the request is made in writing, you are obliged to follow a set procedure. Such statutory requests are not limited to just time off for study or training, and so can also include a financial element.
The employee’s request should contain certain information including what he will be studying and how he thinks the study will improve his ability and the performance of the business. The procedure is very similar to that for statutory flexible-working requests. Within 28 days of receiving the request you must either accept it or meet the employee to discuss it. Your written decision on the request must be given to the employee within 14 days of the meeting.
If you accept the request (or part of it), your written notice must include details of any changes to hours, whether or not the employee will be paid, and how the costs of the study or training will be met. If you refuse the request (or part of it) your notification must state why. There are limited grounds on which you are allowed to refuse a request, which include if the study would not improve the employee’s effectiveness or the performance of your business, or the burden of additional cost. You can also agree a variation of all or part of the request with the employee.
The employee has the right of appeal if you refuse all or part of his request, and if he wishes to, must do so in writing within 14 days of your decision. You then have 14 days either to uphold the refusal or hold an appeal meeting (and if so, you have a further 14 days after that meeting to send your decision in writing).
If you decide to reject the part of the employee’s request concerning payment for his degree, you would not be obliged to pay for the degree, or pay him for the time spent studying. However, if you feel that the degree will improve the employee’s effectiveness and the performance of the business then you may want to give consideration to contributing, particularly if the employee can only afford to take the degree with financial assistance. You could propose this as a variation to the request before making your decision.
If you are obliged to follow the statutory process and fail to do so, the employee can complain to an employment tribunal. It is worth considering any request for study or training, even where the employee does not qualify or fails to follow the statutory procedure. An employee undertaking study and training can be of benefit to a business.
David Brown, associate, Simpson Millar LLP
XpertHR FAQs on the right to make requests in relation to study or training