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Most employers recognise that recruitment is far from an exact science. A candidate might interview well, but how do we know that they can fulfill the role? Alan Lewis examines the grey area of work trials and their interpretation under national minimum wage rules.
Aside from the interview process and any other recruitment exercises employers ask them to complete, how can potential employees’ abilities be gauged to deal with real workday issues that demonstrate they have skills required for the job? This is where work trials come in.
It is commonplace in some industries to require job applicants to undertake a work trial period during which the employer can assess their suitability for a role. Such a work trial may or may not lead to a job offer. The conundrum for employers is whether the candidate should be paid a wage during that trial period or required to carry out the trial for free. Furthermore, if the candidate is paid, does the national minimum wage apply?
During the past decade, it has not been uncommon for businesses, particularly in retail, hospitality and creative sectors, to use unpaid work trials as a means of getting free labour. The Federation of Small Businesses has said that unpaid shifts are a valuable part of the recruitment process, but should not cross the line into exploitation. Trade unions have condemned the practice.
There was an attempt to introduce specific legislation about work trials in 2018 in the form of a private members’ bill submitted by Stewart McDonald, known as the Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill. It propose