Encouraging employees to progress with their personal development and within your business can help to unlock productivity and boost performance, especially if an individual is willing to undertake additional training relevant to their job role. Training can also form a crucial part of a particular role, although not all employees will be willing to undertake training, particularly if it will be during their own free time.
In circumstances where an employee is not willing to undertake training, what can an employer do? Can an employee refuse training, and what action can be taken against an employee who refuses to follow a reasonable instruction to undergo training?
The following guide provides practical advice for employers, managers and HR personnel on employee rights in relation to workplace training, from whether employees can lawfully refuse to participate in training to what legal right they have to request training.
Can an employer require an employee to undertake training?
In some cases, certain introductory training will form a necessary part of an employee becoming sufficiently qualified to carry out their role, for example, if you run a business offering gas boiler servicing to customers, as a legal requirement your operatives must be fully qualified and certified as “Gas Safe” engineers.
In certain professions, like medicine or law, there may also be an industry-standard requirement for ongoing training. This is to ensure each individual maintains the professional skills and competencies to perform their role and, in turn, their ability to lawfully practice. This is commonly described as Continuing Professional Development or CPD training.
In the case of either mandatory CPD or qualification training that’s required for an employee to hold a position, it’s perfectly reasonable for an employer to require an employee to undertake this training. However, an employer may also require an employee to participate in other types of training, as and when they think is necessary to meet the demands of the job or of the business as a whole. This could be either where new work equipment or technology, a new system of work or business processes, or new working policies etc are introduced.
In some cases, there may be express contractual provision contained within the employee’s contract of employment stipulating the requirement for them to undergo certain training, although this will only usually be deemed fair if the requirement is for training during working hours. Absent any contractual stipulation, whether or not an employer can reasonably require an employee to undertake training will depend on the particular circumstances involved.
What does the law say about undergoing training?
Even without any express provision as to training, implied into all employment contracts is a term that an employee should follow lawful and reasonable instructions from their employer, including any training requirements. There is no specific legislation encompassing this aspect of employer-employee relations, although there are certain legislative provisions that could impact the question of what is or is not reasonable when it comes to training requests.
For example, the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 stipulates an employer must provide such training “…as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work” of their employees. This could include anything from a brief training course on how to evacuate a building in the event of a fire, through to more time-consuming and complex first aid training.
Otherwise, what amounts to a reasonable training request will include one that is within the scope of the employee’s job remit. Where an employee argues that they already have sufficient training to undertake their role, and that training on something new isn’t needed, it will be important for you, as the employer, to ensure that training is in fact necessary.
Can an employee refuse training?
Where an employer orders an employee to undertake training — and the order is lawful, reasonable and within the employee’s remit — the employer has a right to expect their order will be followed. An employee’s refusal to obey a lawful and reasonable training request would, in most cases, constitute insubordination for which disciplinary action could be taken.
However, there may be certain circumstances in which an employee could justify a refusal to participate in training, even if the instruction is, in itself, reasonable. This could be where an employee suffers from a disability that prevents them from carrying out the request. In these circumstances, instigating disciplinary action for a failure to follow a training request could potentially amount to unlawful discrimination. Further, any failure to make reasonable adjustments to the training arrangements so as to remove any disadvantage suffered by the disabled employee when compared with others, may also constitute disability discrimination.
If the request for training is itself unreasonable, for example, where an employee is being asked to undertake the training in their own free time, then they ought reasonably be able to refuse that request without running the risk of any disciplinary action being taken against them. This could also include where training, even if during working hours, gives rise to unreasonable travel or childcare difficulties, such as where the training is at a different location than the employee’s normal place of work.
Much will depend on the circumstances and general context involved, where not every refusal can be either automatically justified or condemned.
How can a disagreement about training be resolved?
If an employee refuses training, prior to taking any action consideration must be given as to both the reasonableness of the request and the reasons for the employee’s refusal. If the request forms a necessary part of the employee’s role, including matters such as health and safety, or other important employment legislation designed to protect employees, then some form of disciplinary sanction may be warranted.
Any disciplinary action for a failure to carry out a reasonable training instruction, like all other types of misconduct, must be proportionate. Progressive disciplinary sanctions for employees who continue to refuse training could include a first and final written warning and, in some cases, dismissal. It is rare that a single act of insubordination would constitute just cause to dismiss an employee, although various factors will need to be taken into account, including:
- The magnitude of the refusal, including the impact or potential impact upon your business
- Whether the training request was lawful and reasonable, including within a reasonable scope of the employee’s work or job description
- Whether the request was clear and unequivocal
- Whether the employee’s refusal was wilful and deliberate
- Whether the employee was made aware of the consequences of refusing to comply with the request; ie; whether or not disciplinary action was a recognised consequence of refusal.
Employers must act reasonably where employees either resist or refuse training. Before dismissing an employee for any failure to follow a training instruction, you must ensure that the instruction was reasonable, and the refusal unreasonable, in all the circumstances.
If an employee has a reasonable explanation to disobey a training instruction, the onus may shift to you to accommodate any practical needs, for example, to provide training at a different time or place. In the context of a claim for unfair dismissal, a tribunal is also likely to take into account an employee’s previous work record in determining whether dismissal is an appropriate and proportionate disciplinary sanction. If an employee has an otherwise unblemished disciplinary record, dismissal may not be warranted, not unless the impact on your business of their refusal is serious.
A dismissal should therefore always be a last resort, especially if the employee has over two years’ service, providing them with the right to bring an unfair dismissal claim.
Can an employee request training?
Under the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee has a statutory right to request time away from work to undertake study or training. However, this right will only apply to employees who have worked for you for at least 26 weeks and where your organisation has more than 250 staff. They will also be limited to making one request in any 12-month period.
Employees can request training which is designed to improve their effectiveness at work and the performance of their employer’s business. This could either be by way of accredited courses which lead to specific qualifications, or other unaccredited training to help employees perform their job role or progress within the business.
As an employer, you’ll not be obliged to pay for the training or to pay the employee for the time taken off work. However, given that your business will be benefitting from the training, you may wish to do so at your discretion.
In cases where an employer has agreed to fund an employee’s training because this is likely to benefit the business directly, very often contractual provision will be made for the cost of the training to be repaid by the employee if they leave their job within a certain timeframe after the training has been completed. This will then prevent the employee from taking advantage of their employer’s generosity to pay for the training in the first place, only to leave the business and work elsewhere armed with better qualifications.
However, a deduction from wages can generally only be made by an employer if there has been prior agreement and notification to the employee in writing that this will take place, and over what time period.
Can an employer refuse a request for training?
Even where the right to request study or training arises, an employer is not legally obliged to grant any request for time off. You should always give the matter serious consideration, where you must usually allow any reasonable requests for training from your employees, although there are a wide range of business reasons for which a request can be refused, including:
- It wouldn’t improve the employee’s effectiveness or benefit your business
- You would run up extra costs for the business
- You wouldn’t be able to meet customer demands
- You can’t re-organise the work among other members of staff
- You can’t recruit additional members of staff
- It would damage quality and business performance
- There wouldn’t be sufficient work for the employee to do when they intend to work
- It conflicts with any planned structural changes.
Once a request has been made, you have 28 days to either accept the request or arrange a meeting to discuss the matter with the employee. Following the meeting, you must then inform the employee in writing of your decision within 14 days, together with reasons as to why any request has been refused. If you do not grant a request, an employee can appeal against the decision within 14 days.
If an employer refuses an employee’s request for time off work to undertake study or training, the employee can appeal this decision internally. If the appeal is not upheld, the employee also has the right to bring a claim before an employment tribunal on the grounds that you have failed to follow the correct procedure, rejected the request on grounds other than those allowed or your refusal was based on incorrect facts. If the claim succeeds, you may be ordered to reconsider the request or to pay damages.
DavidsonMorris’ employment lawyers work with employers to support with all aspects of workforce management through our fixed-fee Triple A service and on more complex issues requiring specialist guidance. For expert advice, contact us.
Can employees refuse training FAQs
Can I refuse training?
An employee may be able to refuse training if the request itself is unreasonable or they’ve a reasonable basis upon which to object, eg, where the training is outside working hours at a different location to where they normally work.
Can I refuse training at work UK?
Whether you can reasonably refuse training at work will depend on all the circumstances, where not every refusal can be either automatically justified or condemned. You may, however, be required to undertake mandatory training as part of your job description.
Is training a legal requirement?
In some cases, training may be a legal requirement, for example, where you work in medicine or law and you’re required under industry standard rules to meet continuing professional development (CPD) requirements.
Can you sue an employer for lack of training?
If you make a request for training and your employer refuses, you may be able to lodge a complaint before a tribunal if their refusal is based on incorrect facts or falls outside one of the permissible grounds for refusal.
Last updated: 28 June 2021