I want a year off to complete my Open University degree. What should I do?

The provision of such time off work is unusual. However, there is a legal right to request time off work for individuals working in big organisations (250 employees or more). Although the planned extension of this right to all employees irrespective of the size of their employer has been postponed, smaller employers may be persuaded to voluntarily follow the same procedure. You will need to discuss the proposition with your employer and demonstrate how they would benefit.

Also, find out whether your employer has a training and development policy that provides for sponsored sabbaticals (i.e. a period of time during which staff are allowed to stop their usual work in order to study or travel, usually while continuing to be paid), which might meet your needs.

If no such policy exists, your employer might be prepared to provide such an opportunity but without pay.

If that is the case, you would need to find out how you might financially support yourself (and any dependants) for the duration of the course.

If your employer is not prepared to support your request, don't give up – consider other ways of completing the programme while maintaining your employment. Perhaps make a request to work flexibly or look for a course that is based on distance/remote study.

Remember that irrespective of the size of your employer’s organisation, the right to request flexible working is now available to all employees with at least 26 weeks’ service. It is no longer necessary to be caring for children or vulnerable adults in order to make a request.

Your employer’s emphasis should be on whether sensible arrangements can be made to accommodate your request, taking into account the needs of the business, rather than making a value judgement as to your reason for wanting to adjust your working arrangements. Even so, if your planned Open University degree would benefit your employer, it would be worth spelling this out.

Remember that any change to work arrangements as a result of a request to work flexibly will be a permanent change to the employment contract unless you agree clearly that it is to be temporary, limited to the duration of your course. Also make sure that you agree clearly what is to happen at the end of the course. If you want to revert automatically back to your previous work arrangements without your employer’s agreement, you need to agree this clearly. See our section on Flexible Working for tips on making the request.

Finally, if other work colleagues have been granted time off for study purposes and you have not, ask for an explanation. If you don't receive a satisfactory answer, you may feel you have a case to pursue your claim using your organisation's grievance procedure.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.