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Ask the expert: Learning time entitlement


How much time off is an employer obliged to give for staff to attend CPD events, and should it be pro-rata? Graham O'Connell, Mike Morrison and employment specialist Martin Brewer, partner at Mills & Reeve law firm, reply.

Photo of Graham O'ConnellGraham O'Connell replies:

This is something that should be set out in your training/education policy so that everyone knows where they stand. Most commonly it is the individuals responsibility to maintain their CPD and professional status. If the organisation requires the person to belong to the relevant professional body, then it is usually up to the organisation to set aside the time for the CPD activity irrespective of whether they work part- or full-time. In return, they may want a say in just what CPD the person undertakes (both the what and the how).

Different professional bodies have different requirements so it is not possible to have a single, all-purpose formula. Dentists, for example, do about 50 hours a year – 250 hours CPD over five years is a legal requirement not an option. However, only 75 of those hours are certifiable (this changes to 150 and 50 hours respectively later this year).

Different professional bodies have different conditions on what constitutes CPD, how it is recorded and how it is checked. I don't think you would be expected to keep up-to-date with all of these varying conditions. So, you might put in your policy that each professional must maintain their CPD using the most cost and time efficient means possible and that you will give the time automatically for the minimum certifiable level of CPD study.

"Different professional bodies have different conditions on what constitutes CPD, how it is recorded and how it is checked."

Graham O'Connell, National School for Government

Any additional time can be applied for but the individual should make a reasoned case for why that is the best option. Although giving such extra time would technically be discretionary, I would not want to see medical staff short-changed on CPD due to technicalities. This would put the onus on the individual to fully manage their CPD choices and would give you some option to manage the absence issue where off-island CPD is more by choice than necessity.

Finally, it may be possible to have a policy where the employer only supports formal or regulated CPD activity, which may be capped at, say, 30 hours per year. That would be a matter for HR to negotiate.

If professional status, and therefore CPD, is not required as part of the job then the employer's responsibility is discretionary. However, to avoid conflict or confusion, I would suggest that this is also covered in the policy. Many public sector employers will give some support to CPD - in time if not money - if it is of some relevance and benefit to the organisation. The limited extent of this support should be in the policy and be clear to all concerned. I'd be cautious about labelling this as 'time off' and would stick with something like 'essential study-leave'.

There is always the option to offer an amount of unpaid study-leave for non work-related CPD ie important to the person (perhaps for their future career) but not relevant to their current role.

Graham O'Connell MA Chartered FCIPD FITOL FInstCPD ACIM is head of organisational learning and standards at the National School for Government. He has particular responsibility for developing and promoting best practices in learning and development.

As a consultant Graham has 25 years' experience in technical, management, trainer training and as an adviser to organisations on the strategic aspects of L&D. He has extensive overseas experience including working in countries as diverse as Russia, Bermuda, China and Kosovo. Graham still does some occasional tutoring on CPD and University of Cambridge qualification programmes and runs occasional Masterclasses. He also runs a number of networks including the Strategic L&D Network (for heads of L&D in the Civil Service), the Henley Public Sector Knowledge Management Forum and the Leadership Alliance Exchange.

Photo of Mike MorrisonMike Morrison replies:

CPD to me has several meanings - continued personal development and continued professional development. I think it is important to know what an organisation means by the use of the term before attempting to determine a 'time-off' policy. When employing professionals that are required to maintain registration or a minimum number of hours, it is important that your policy is consistent. If you expect staff to undertake CPD in their own time, is this an explicit contractual requirement?

As a rule of thumb - if the skills are needed by the organisation then full time off should be given. If it is of more long-term personal benefit, but very limited gain to the organisation then, at the very least, the organisation should allow flexibility with leave or unpaid leave where appropriate.

I encourage organisations that employ professionals that are required to maintain a level of CPD, that the organisation provides the minimum in exchange for the individuals adding another 25-50% in their own time. This approach increases skills and capability rather than keep it at a consistent level.

Fairness and consistency are important so any approach must ensure that full-time and part-time staff are treated equally (pro-rata).

"CPD to me has several meanings - continued personal development and continued professional development. I think it is important to know what an organisation means by the use of the term before attempting to determine a 'time-off' policy."

Mike Morrison, RapidBI

For example - for a two-day course for a part-time worker employed for working 50% FTE (full-time equitant), this is the equivalent of four working days. You cannot expect a part-time worker to do more than their expected hours. For example, lets say they only work mornings - and have to give the two afternoons as their own time... yet you are paying the full-time employee! Be very careful here.

As for who is responsible - interesting one. If you are paying them their salary and you are paying the course fee - you are responsible. If you need them to have these skills (they joined you with them) you have a responsibility to keep them up-to-date.

As a business strategy you will need to apply whatever decision you make across all wards, departments and sites. There is a good chance that the nurse already reads and does some CPD in their own time (most of the nurses I know do).

Bottom line is if you don't pay - will you sack them for failing to update?

I suspect you need to identify what is core (minimum) and what is long term developmental and not going to be of value to them in the role they are currently undertaking for you now (clinical not managerial skills).

Mike Morrison is an organisation development specialist with many years' experience in a wide range of sectors supporting the development of learning and development functions. His experience as an accredited business adviser had provided him with a unique holistic view of organisational development and how learning strategies can integrate with the wider functions within an organisation. For more information visit:

Martin Brewer, a partner at Mills & Reeves solicitors replies:

I think that there's an element of 'time-off' envy inherent in this question. Let's look at each point in turn.

  • Responsibility for CPD points always lies with the individual employee. It is your responsibility to keep up-to-date and attend appropriately certified courses to maintain the required number of CPD hours.
  • There are two types of time off that you need to consider. Time off which is required in order, for example, to obtain CPD points cannot, it seems to me, be pro-rated. If there's a two-day course then I just don't see how any pro-rating can work unless the part-timer's required CPD hours are also pro-rated. In which case it may be possible to find shorter courses for that individual - although if the required hours are pro-rated then over the course of a year the full-timer will in any event have more time off from work doing CPD courses than the part-timer will. The second type is that training which isn't 'required' but is just extra learning for individual development. Here pro-rating is simpler but the employer has to be careful not to inadvertently discriminate against the part-timer by denying them access to training that might further their career where that has been made available to full-timers. This may fall foul of the Part-Time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations.
  • As to the question 'Can anyone offer a fair and clear formula for setting the amount of time off that employees are entitled to?' the answer is no - because it all depends on the employee's need, ability to cover absence and the employer's needs etc.

Martin Brewer is an employment specialist and a partner for Birmingham-based Mills & Reeve LLP. He has extensive experience acting for large employers on all areas of contentious and non-contentious employment law. His recent work includes advising on the status of agency workers; defending large employers in employment tribunals in cases involving complex race and religious discrimination claims and advising on joint working between NHS Trusts and local authorities. For more information go to


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