What are employers’ legal obligations towards apprentices?

An apprentice at National Grid
REX/Photofusion

With the activities taking place during National Apprenticeship Week, many firms are beginning to think about taking on an apprentice. But what are the legal ramifications of hiring an apprentice? We set out three key points of which employers need to be aware.

1. Use an apprenticeship agreement

Since a change to the law on 6 April 2012, employers that appoint an apprentice in connection with an apprenticeship framework must enter into an apprenticeship agreement with the apprentice. The agreement must be in a prescribed form.

In addition to the legal formalities of apprenticeship agreements, employers should consider including other details in the agreement. To prepare for the eventuality that the apprentice will leave the organisation before the end of the apprenticeship or a short time after it has finished, it could include a provision requiring the apprentice to reimburse the employer all or part of its expenditure on training in these circumstances. The employer should remember to include a clause reserving the right to deduct any amount due from the apprentice’s wages.

Other points to consider inserting in the apprenticeship agreement include whether or not the employer will pay for the incidental costs incurred in completing the training course, such as textbooks and materials, and if it will grant study time for exams and assessments.

2. An apprentice has the status of employee

Many employers will be surprised to know that apprentices appointed under an apprenticeship agreement have the status of employee. This is a change from the traditional common law apprenticeship. Employees are protected by a myriad of employment rights, and employers must abide by these rights in respect of apprentices.

3. Apprentices should be paid the national minimum wage

Under national minimum wage legislation, apprentices are entitled to receive an apprentice rate for time spent working and training. The apprentice rate applies to apprentices who are aged under 19, or who are aged 19 or over but in the first year of their apprenticeship. Apprentices who are aged 19 or over who have spent a year in their apprenticeship must be paid at least the minimum wage rate applicable to their age.

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