There has been considerable publicity surrounding apprentices recently and the number of businesses recruiting apprentices has increased enormously. My understanding is that the Prime Minister wants there to be 3 million apprentices in the UK.
Apprentices can undoubtedly provide considerable benefit to many organisations and give employers a chance to train, grow and develop employees in ways to suit their businesses.
Before you join the headlong rush to recruit apprentices (and even if you have already done so) it is important that you check the terms under which you employ your apprentices.
The Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA) introduced the requirement for apprentices to be employed under an Apprenticeship Agreement. Whilst this part of the Act was initially delayed all Apprenticeships since 6th April 2012 must be covered by such an Agreement.
The key purpose of this part of the Act is to stipulate that that the Agreement is a contract of service and not a contract of Apprenticeship, the Apprenticeship is primarily a job.
For all apprentices employed after 6th April 2012 and for new apprentices you should check to ensure that your documentation meets the requirements of ASCLA. It is wise to seek professional advice on this matter and to comply with the requirements an Apprenticeship Agreement must also contain terms required by the Employment Rights Act.
Another consideration when recruiting apprentices is what to do if an apprentice doesn’t work out and you want dispense with their services? Is it as easy as dismissing any other employee?
I have heard of organisations who have dismissed an apprentice only to find themselves on the receiving end of a claim for the pay that the apprentice would have earned for the remaining duration of the Apprenticeship. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see future claims include claims for consequential losses from apprentices claiming that their future career was affected having failed to complete the Apprenticeship.
It is possible to dismiss apprentices safely and this comes back to the Apprenticeship Agreement being properly worded and the employer then correctly following their dismissal processes. With this in mind it is sensible to set out in the Agreement what would be considered fair and reasonable grounds for dismissal.
Provided you follow your set procedures and do have fair and reasonable grounds for dismissal, you are less likely to be accused of a breach of contract. It is important to consider that apprentices are different from other employees and you can’t just dismiss an apprentice because you can no longer afford to pay them.
If you are in a situation where you are considering dismissing an apprentice it is wise to seek professional advice to prevent you receiving an unexpected claim, which you may not be able to defend.