Employers warned over shock court ruling on apprentice status

Employers of ‘modern apprentices’ are being warned to take notice of a shock decision by the Court of Appeal which gives them additional rights over and above ordinary employees.

In Flett v Matheson, the court found that modern apprentice agreements can be a common law contract of apprenticeship, enabling the apprentice to claim damages for lost wages and lost opportunities if a contract is terminated early.

Modern apprentices are common in the manufacturing, construction and retail sectors and tend to be employed for long, fixed-term periods, in some cases five years.

If a contract of apprenticeship is terminated within the fixed-term, the amount of damages available to the employee now far exceeds those available to an ordinary employee.

This means that in many cases an apprentice would be able to recover damages for lost wages for the remainder of the fixed term and the loss of future employment prospects – the argument being that they are less employable because they did not complete their training.

Jack Harrington, employment partner at law firm Pannone & Partners, said: “Many employers of modern apprentices will now find themselves forced to continue the apprenticeship to the end of the fixed term.

“Only in exceptional circumstances could an apprenticeship of this nature be terminated early. The financial consequences of termination are potentially very high, even where a good reason to terminate arises, such as redundancy.”

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