Do apprentices need a specific contract?
Posted on 21st August 2023 at 11:59
If you’re taking on an apprentice, there are several differences to taking on an employee in the usual way.
Do I need a contract with my apprentice?
You are legally required to have an apprenticeship agreement in place for the duration of the apprenticeship. As a minimum, you must give details of:
their training, qualifications, and the framework you will be working to,
the dates when the apprenticeship starts and finishes,
their conditions and benefits,
It makes sense to put all the terms of your agreement in one place. A written contract which clearly sets out the terms and conditions of the employment can save a lot of confusion for you and your apprentice and will make sure that funding isn’t jeopardised.
Without a written, legally compliant agreement, the tribunal will enforce the default terms of a Contract of Apprenticeship. These terms lean towards protecting apprentices, and so this outcome may not be in the best interests of your business. It is better to get a clear, balanced, enforceable agreement in place so that both you and your apprentices know where you stand.
Can I use my normal contract of employment?
Apprentices must be offered the same conditions as other employees at a similar grade or in a similar role, including holidays, sick pay, benefits, and redundancy rights, so you might be tempted to use your standard contract of employment for apprentices. However, an apprenticeship is different to other employment relationships, so it makes sense that the agreement will be different too.
Here are some of the areas where you might need a specific contract for apprentices:
Training is central to apprenticeships, so it makes sense that the topic will be prominent in apprenticeship agreements. Your agreement might set out the time and payment you will provide them with for training, study, and exams. You could also set out what is required of them, and the consequences if they fail to meet these standards - for example, if they use their study time for activities other than studying.
Your contract will set out the length of the apprenticeship, which will be between 1 and 5 years, depending on the level of study. Unlike a normal fixed-term contract, you might want to consider what happens afterwards. Do you have a progression plan for your apprentices? For example, will you guarantee a permanent job at the end of training, or do you want to set out the terms on which you would offer them a job?
As part of their training, apprentices will have a lot of insight into the workings of the company. You might want to include restrictive clauses to prevent them from misusing sensitive or confidential business information.
After investing in training for apprentices, you might want to keep them on as employees so that your company gets a return on that investment. You could include terms about how long the apprentice is expected to work for you after their qualification, and repayment of costs if the apprentice doesn’t complete their training. You might also want to consider clauses to protect you from unfair competition if the apprentice does leave.
However, you will likely need different restrictions for apprentices. Restrictive covenants can only be enforced if they are reasonable and no more restrictive than necessary, but what is reasonable may be different for apprenticeships. If the restrictive clauses in your contract are unreasonable for an apprentice, the tribunal might remove the unreasonable parts, or might not enforce the restriction at all. In one case (Bartholomews Agri Food v Thornton), the tribunal refused to enforce a covenant when the employee left 18 years later because it had been too restrictive when he signed the contract as a trainee.
Teenagers may begin apprenticeships as soon as they leave school, and so could be under the age of 18. There will be additional restrictions on the length of their working day and the times of day they can work. They will also be entitled to additional rest periods.
If you employ an apprentice under the age of 18, you will need to be sure that your contracts are legally compliant, making clear the additional rights they have. Your usual contract terms might conflict with these rights (for example, requiring staff to be available for night shifts) and you will need to make it clear which terms do not apply to under-18s.
Grounds for dismissal
The default terms (which will be applied if you don’t have a written, legally compliant agreement) make it difficult to terminate the contract, even for reasons of redundancy or misconduct. Under these terms, apprentices can claim pay for the full duration of the apprenticeship as well as compensation for the loss of opportunity from not completing their qualification. The choice would be between keeping on an apprentice despite poor work or misconduct, or facing an incredibly costly claim.
Instead, by implementing your own agreement you can set the standards you expect and will be able to act if an apprentice fails to meet these standards.
Tailored apprenticeship agreements
Using a tailored agreement, you can be certain it is legally compliant with regulations including the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 and the Working Time Regulations. This means you can rely on it knowing it is enforceable. Unlike the standard terms, you can protect your business interests.
Get in touch for help drafting an apprenticeship agreement for your company.
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