Government proposals to give employees time off work for training could be costly for brokers

New government proposals to give employees a legal right to request time off from work to undertake relevant training could prove expensive for small insurance brokers, and put them at risk of being sued by employees.

The Department for Innovation, Universities & Skills is currently consulting on plans to give employees the right to ask their bosses to give them time away from their “established duties” in order to allow them to go on training courses.

The process will work by giving employees the opportunity to request a meeting with their employer – in the presence of a union representative if they wish – to discuss their training needs.

These proposals have caused much consternation at the Federation of Small Businesses, the membership of which includes a number of insurance brokers. The FSB said this week that the “time to train” process is not only too expensive and too bureaucratic for small companies, but it also puts them at risk of being sued by employees who could interpret a refusal by their boss to allow them to train as constructive dismissal. What’s the solution?

The FSB is proposing that small businesses – that is, those with up to 20 employees – should be given an exemption that would enable them to hold informal “one on one” meetings without union representatives present.

It argues that many small businesses already offer their employees unofficial training programmes – an FSB survey of 20,000 small business owners found that three quarters (76 per cent) of them provided training for employees, though a “significant percentage” of that training is not recognised by the government.

Colin Willman, education and skills chairman at the FSB, says the majority of small businesses provide training for their employees because there are a “higher percentage of under-skilled employees working within smaller businesses compared with bigger firms”.

Willman advocates allowing small businesses to take a more relaxed approach to their staff training needs. He says: “We believe the best way to engage small businesses with the policy is to keep it informal between employer and employee, making it easier to identify the necessary training.”