A new right to request time off to undertake study or training will be available to employees working in businesses in the UK employing 250 or more people, with effect from 6 April 2010. The law will be extended to all organisations, regardless of size, from April 2011.
The right, explained in a leaflet (pdf) published by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, will operate in a similar way to the existing right to request a flexible working arrangement, in that employers must consider requests seriously and can only refuse them on specified business grounds.
Employees can only apply if they have worked for their employer for at least six months and have not made a request in the past 12 months. To apply they must submit a written request, which meets specified criteria. The employer must meet with the employee within 28 days to discuss the request.
The employer must send the employee a written, dated notice of its decision within 14 days of the meeting. Employers do not have to grant the request, but the grounds(s) for rejecting it must fall within ten business reasons set out in the relevant legislation (s.63F of the Employment Rights Act 1996, as amended) – for example, detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand; burden of additional costs.
If employers grant a request, they are not legally required to fund the training or allow the employee paid time off. If a request is turned down, the employee has 14 days to appeal. Again, strict timetable provisions apply in respect of making and dealing with any appeal. Employees can bring an Employment Tribunal claim if their appeal fails, but only on limited grounds.
The right appears to be quite feeble because employers have a wide ability to refuse requests and limited sanctions apply for breaching the rules. The main pitfall for employers is likely to be falling foul of the strict timetabling provisions. Employers who receive a request should ensure they familiarise themselves with the procedure and deal with the request promptly and correctly.