The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 came into force on the 6 April this year meaning that employers with more than 250 staff will now have to facilitate a right to request time off for training, (similar to the right to request flexible working, introduced in April 2003). The same rights will be extended to all businesses from 6 April 2011.

Employers need to update their procedures for staff requesting time off to train, as failure to comply with the statutory obligations could result in employment tribunal claims being brought.

The right applies to all employees with at least 26 weeks continuous service, although there are some exceptions. Whilst there is no right to paid time off, employers should be aware that there may be implications relating to the national minimum wage.

The request must be in writing, and must include the subject matter of the training, where, when and who will be providing the training, what qualifications it will lead to (if any) and how it will improve the effectiveness of the business within which the employee is based. Upon receipt of such a request, the employer must either accept the request, confirming the same in writing, or invite the employee to a meeting to discuss the request.

The employee is entitled to be accompanied by a colleague to the meeting, and the employer must confirm the decision within 14 days of the meeting.

The employer is not obliged to accept the request; however, there must be a legitimate business reason for refusal. A legitimate reason can include one of ten statutory reasons, including where the training would not improve the business, the burden of additional costs, or that accepting the request for training would result in a detrimental impact on quality or performance within the business.

Where the request is refused, the employee has the right to appeal against the decision.

The right to train includes undertaking accredited programmes leading to a recognised qualification, or unaccredited training to develop particular skills. The legislation has been introduced to assist people in strengthening their skills and employability, which will, in the Government’s view, assist economic recovery in the UK.

Whilst employers may be concerned that this new right will place an additional burden on them during difficult times, the intention is that any increased training for their staff should improve the efficiency of the business, being more of a benefit than a burden. Employers should remember that they can refuse requests where they have a legitimate reason for doing so and, if in doubt, they should consult independent legal advisors.