Today marks the start of National Apprentice Week (NAW) – a week designed to celebrate apprenticeships and to encourage more small businesses to take on apprentices. The government has declared that there are now over 1500 different apprenticeships on offer in more than 170 industries and £1.5bn was invested in apprenticeships by the government in 2013-2014.
What do employers need to know?
If you have hired or are considering hiring an apprentice in your business, it’s vital to appreciate the importance of getting correctly drafted employment documentation in place from the outset. Without proper documentation setting out the employment relationship, apprentices could enjoy significantly enhanced protection leaving you with little freedom to let them go if they are not up to the job.
The law behind apprenticeships
Traditionally, employment law has acted as red tape to the employment of apprentices.
Prior to 2009, apprentices were given a ‘Contract of Apprenticeship’ and as a result enjoyed extra protection against early dismissal. It is not possible to dismiss an apprentice under a Contract of Apprenticeship unless they are guilty of grave misconduct or they are essentially ‘incapable of being taught’. An employer can not even dismiss an apprentice working under a Contract of Apprenticeship for reason of redundancy. An apprentice whose apprenticeship is terminated early may claim, by way of damages, not only for loss of earnings to the end of the apprenticeship period but also for a figure for loss of future prospects. These damages have the potential to be substantial.
In 2009 the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 came into force which introduced the concept of an Apprenticeship Agreement. One of the aims of the legislation was to encourage employers to take on apprentices and the figures above suggest it has had this effect.
Employers and apprentices have been able to enter into Apprenticeship Agreements since 1 April 2011. This agreement is held to be a ‘contract of service’ and not a Contract of Apprenticeship (as above) and as a result, the apprentice is treated for all intents and purposes as an ordinary employee and the usual unfair dismissal rules apply. This means that employers can effectively performance manage under-performing apprentices as they would any employee in the business.
There are very specific conditions that need to be met in order for the documentation to qualify as an Apprenticeship Agreement and as specialists in this area we can ensure that your documentation is up to scratch.
There are significant benefits to employing apprentices within your organisation; indeed at SAS Daniels we currently employee three apprentices in three separate areas of law.
Whilst we encourage employers to have regard for an apprentice’s lack of experience and knowledge before making choices about disciplinary sanctions or even their dismissal, the law now recognises that employers should have the freedom to dismiss where there is clearly no scope to continue an individual within a business.
If you would like future advice on drafting Apprenticeship Agreements or any other employment issues, please contact a member of our Employment Law & HR team on 0161 475 7663.