With the government offering incentives to encourage employers to take on new apprentices, some employers may be considering doing so for the first time. If your organisation is one of these, we explain below some of the key employment law matters it will be helpful to be aware of when it comes to employing apprentices in England and Wales.
Using the right contract is vital
As apprentices are employees it would seem logical that they should be issued with a standard contract of employment, however this should be avoided. This is because there are special rules regarding apprentices which mean that it’s more beneficial for an employer to use a type of employment contract called an apprentice agreement. If a correctly drafted apprentice agreement is used and an employer wishes to dismiss the apprentice during the fixed term of the contract, the apprentice has no greater rights than any other employee.
However, if an appropriate apprentice agreement is not used an apprentice can be found to be employed on a ‘traditional contract of apprenticeship’. This makes it significantly more difficult for employers to dismiss should they wish to do so. Traditional contracts of apprenticeship cannot usually safely be terminated prior to the end of the fixed term and if they are, any damages for breach of contract are potentially much greater than would usually be the case for ordinary employees. This protection is in addition to the usual employment law rights.
If your organisation is taking on an apprentice, you should contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we can assist you by providing an apprentice agreement where required. It’s important to bear in mind that an apprenticeship agreement will now usually need to be provided to the apprentice on or before the first day of employment, this is because there was a change in April to the timing of when new starters must be provided with ‘written particulars of employment’.
Make sure you pay apprentices correctly
Apprentices are entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage apprentice rate if they are aged under 19, or they are aged 19 or over and are in the first year of their apprenticeship. The current apprentice rate is £4.15 per hour. As you are probably already aware, the National Minimum Wage rates change every April.
Longer term, it may be worth bearing in mind that once an apprentice is past the first year of their apprenticeship, and they are aged 19 or over, then they are legally entitled to the National Minimum Wage for their age group. This will be higher than the apprentice rate.
Be alert to possible discrimination and harassment issues
It’s important to be aware that apprentices and applicants for an apprenticeship have protection against discrimination and harassment. With this in mind employers should ensure that recruitment practices are fair and that all employees, including apprentices, are treated appropriately during employment. Whilst government funding for younger apprentices is usually higher, employers should avoid setting an upper age limit on applicants for an apprenticeship as this runs the risk of age discrimination.
If you have an employment law matter you would like assistance with, please do not hesitate to contact Kingfisher Professional Services Ltd as we are happy to help.