Apprentices can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to a business. As such, apprenticeships offer various advantages to companies of all sizes. That being said, just like any other new hire, apprentices might find it difficult to ‘bed in’ to a company culture, or discover that the learning curve is more demanding than expected.
In this article, we aim to help UK employers understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to hiring and firing apprentices. We’ll also guide you through potential options if you’re considering dismissing an apprentice for various reasons.
Can you dismiss an apprentice?
Yes, employers have the right to dismiss an apprentice if they don't follow the conditions of their employment contract, much the same as any other employee.
On what grounds can you sack an apprentice?
Some examples of grounds for dismissal of an apprentice include:
Consistently poor timekeeping;
Misconduct (e.g. bullying or harassment);
Not meeting the required standards expected of the role.
Misconduct including bullying and harassment may lead to an employer terminating an apprentice’s contract too, especially if their behaviour is discriminatory.
As with any role, under employment law, an employer can let an apprentice go if they are not performing to the standard laid out in the job description.
Can you end an apprenticeship early?
Whether an employer can end an apprenticeship early depends on the type of apprenticeship contract in place.
Under UK law, an apprenticeship contract can be terminated in the following situations:
If the position becomes redundant;
The employer and apprentice agree that ending the apprenticeship is in both parties' best interests. This requires mutual consent, often seen when external factors like the lack of a driving licence hinder the apprentice's ability to do a job;
If the apprentice decides to resign;
In cases of gross misconduct;
If the apprentice cannot perform the required tasks;
Ending an apprenticeship early because of a lack of capability is a challenging route. Employers must follow a fair capability process and provide clear evidence that the apprentice cannot perform required tasks.
Can an apprentice be made redundant?
Yes, an apprentice can be made redundant if:
The company undergoes significant changes, like changing its operations or closing offices;
The employer shuts down the business or has plans to do so.
To make an apprentice redundant employers need to prove that either the business has changed substantially, or it is no longer in operation.
Making an apprentice redundant because of poor performance is illegal. However, as mentioned, if an apprentice isn't meeting the required standards, they can be dismissed through a fair capability process.
Before making an employee redundant, employers typically must offer alternative employment before redundancy.
However, the employee can choose to refuse alternative employment for valid reasons.
When an apprentice is made redundant, the Government will continue to fund their training for at least 12 weeks, giving them time to find another apprenticeship opportunity.
What are the risks of dismissing an apprentice?
The type of contract an apprentice is employed under, be it a contract of apprenticeship or apprenticeship agreement, dictates the apprentice's specific rights.
If, at any point, an employer is unsure of their position or the legalities of the legal process, it's recommended they speak to an employment solicitor sooner rather than later. They can clarify your rights, and the apprentice's rights, and ensure compliance with the law, preventing potential legal claims from the apprentice.
Can an apprentice claim unfair dismissal?
Yes, under an Apprenticeship Agreement, apprentices have the same employment rights as other employees. This includes the right to file an unfair dismissal claim after two years of service or bring claims of discrimination or automatic unfair dismissal from day one of their employment.
Do you have to give an apprentice notice if you dismiss them?
If an apprentice has worked for your organisation for more than a month, you must comply with the statutory notice periods, as these are the minimum legal requirements. Similarly, they must work their appropriate notice period unless otherwise agreed. These are:
Less than 1 month - no notice;
1 month to 2 years - 1 week statutory notice;
2 to 12 years - 1 week for each full year worked;
12 years or more - 12 weeks of statutory notice.
For example, if an apprentice has worked for you for 12 weeks, as a minimum you must give them 1 week of statutory notice for dismissal. That is unless the apprentice's contract specifies a longer notice period than the legal minimum. Then you will be required to give them this amount of notice.
If an employer doesn't give an apprentice adequate notice of dismissal, they could be able to file a claim for wrongful dismissal.
That being said, in cases of gross misconduct, you may be able to immediately dismiss an apprentice without notice or, in other cases, mutually waive the notice period and agree on a payment in lieu of notice (PILON).
What is an apprenticeship?
An apprenticeship is a paid job where someone, often a young person or someone changing careers, works in a business to gain experience or learn a new skill.
Alongside their paid work, apprentices typically spend around 20% of their time in classroom-based learning.
Upon completing an apprenticeship, individuals gain a nationally recognised qualification, helping them advance in the company or explore new career opportunities.
What are the different types of apprenticeships?
Apprenticeships.gov.uk has an informative table on their website breaking down the different types of apprenticeships and the qualifications that are earned upon completion:
Equivalent education level
4,5,6 and 7
Foundation degree and above
6 and 7
Bachelor’s or master’s degree
What is an apprenticeship agreement?
An apprenticeship agreement follows government guidelines for off-the-job training, usually conducted by an external trainer.
It covers details like:
Apprenticeship agreements are governed by the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 (ASCLA 2009).
What is a commitment statement document?
This is a document signed by an apprentice’s employer, the apprentice, and the associated training provider.
The statement includes:
The training content and schedule;
The qualifications that can be achieved;
Expectations for the apprentice, employer, and trainer;
Process for queries, questions, and concerns.
What is an apprenticeship contract?
An apprenticeship contract includes all the same details as an apprenticeship agreement, however, apprentices with a contract receive more protection from dismissal rights than someone on an apprenticeship agreement.
An apprenticeship contract may also include details about employee performance reviews and disciplinary procedures to ensure employees meet employer expectations throughout the contract.
What employment rights do apprentices have?
As apprentices are normally classed as employees, they have most of the same rights and benefits as other employees within an organisation, including:
At least 20 days paid holiday per year (pro rata for part-time apprentices);
Sick pay entitlement;
Statutory maternity, paternity pay, and leave;
The national living or national minimum wage;
Employment contract ;
Health and safety protection under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Apprentices are entitled to additional rights. This includes being paid for time that is spent training or studying for their apprenticeship. This must consist of at least 20% of the apprentice’s working hours.
How to legally dismiss an apprentice
Employers must follow the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures. As mentioned, employers need to follow a fair disciplinary procedure when firing apprentices or they can bring a claim of unfair dismissal to a tribunal.
Legal support for employers working with apprentices
At Lawhive, our employment solicitors can provide personalised advice if you’re considering hiring or dismissing an apprentice.
Contact us today for a free case assessment to find out more.