Employers often issue a ‘standard’ contract of employment to an apprentice and simply renamed it, calling it an apprentice contract or agreement rather than issuing a formal legally compliant apprentice agreement, and by doing so will unwittingly enter into an apprentice contract instead.
Please note it can be difficult to get out of or take action against an apprentice employed under an apprentice contract as they have additional protection and rights over and above those of a normal employee.
An apprentice contract’s sole purpose is to ensure an apprentice is trained, which can therefore make it difficult for an employer to dismiss an apprentice under this type of arrangement early. An employer would require clear evidence to demonstrate that the apprentice is simply untrainable or that serious misconduct had occurred.
As an employer you would not be able to dismiss an apprentice fairly under an apprentice contract for normal reasons that you would with your other employees, such as:
- Poor performance.
- Time keeping
- Failure to meet study requirements
- Redundancy (unless the business is physically closing)
Should an apprentice under a contract of apprenticeship be dismissed an employer could be liable for:
- Unfair dismissal award
- Cost of training
- Loss of earning for original apprenticeship term
- Loss of future earnings
As of 2011, under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA), all apprentices should be issued with a formal apprenticeship agreement which has the status of a contract of service (employment contract). In essence it means that an apprentice:
- can be treated the same as any other employee and is only entitled to the statutory protections;
- can be terminated for poor performance or misconduct with little or no repercussions as long as the employer has applied a fair process in line with its employment policies.
- could be made redundant.
Without a formal apprentice agreement in place your apprentice could be deemed to be employed on an apprentice contract and could leave you vulnerable should the apprentice not perform to the required standard and you decide to part ways.