Although your apprentices are working in a defined way focused on training them in particular skills, and may seem different to standard employees, they still need some kind of contract or agreement in place. They are still your employees, and have certain rights and protections, including the right to a “written statement of particulars”, which sets out the basic terms of their employment.

Contracts for apprentices can be one of two types, and it’s important to ensure you get the right one, and understand what contract your current apprentices are employed under so that you don’t fall foul of the various legal ramifications.

Apprenticeship agreements

Apprenticeship agreements were introduced with the Apprentices, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. The Act sets out the circumstances under which someone carries out an apprenticeship under an approved set of standards, or framework, and in 2015 an amendment to the Act set out the meaning and requirements of an “approved English apprenticeship agreement” under which an apprentice in England agrees to carry out work for an employer. The agreement must:

  • provide for the apprentice to work for reward in a sector for which there is an approved apprenticeship standard;
  • provide for the apprentice to receive training to assist him or her to achieve the approved apprenticeship standard in the work done under the agreement; and
  • satisfy any other conditions that the Government specifies in regulations (none as yet).

Apprentices are also entitled to a “written statement of particulars of employment”, which for most employees comes in the form of a contract of employment. You can either have this as a separate document, or can combine these pieces of information with an apprenticeship agreement to make one contract.

Under apprenticeship agreements, apprentices have the same rights as any other employee, including in respect of breach of contract and dismissal.

Traditional contracts of apprenticeship

These arrangements are governed by common law, and are specifically included within the definition of a contract of employment in the Employment Rights Act. Traditional contracts of apprenticeship are with the employer or can be with an individual person at the employer, and you should be aware of the following ways in which they differ from apprenticeship agreements and standard employment contracts:

  • If organisational changes mean you are no longer able to provide training in the relevant area, this will be a breach of contract.
  • It is more difficult to dismiss an apprentice under a traditional contract of apprenticeship than a typical employee, or an apprentice under an apprenticeship agreement. You would need serious misconduct or persistent neglect of duties or similar to justify a dismissal.
  • If an apprentice contract is broken your apprentice would be entitled to remuneration and benefits to the end of their apprenticeship and also to damages for your failure to train them, which could have a long-term effect on their wages.
  • Because you have undertaken to train your apprentice, that means that unless there are exceptional circumstances such as a closure of the business or similar, they cannot be made redundant.

You can see that the fundamental difference here is that your flexibility particularly in respect of dismissal of the apprentice is severely limited by having a traditional contract of apprenticeship rather than an apprenticeship agreement under the Apprentices, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009. This means it’s worth doing this properly and ensuring your apprentice arrangement is an approved apprenticeship and comes under the 2009 Act.

If you engage an apprentice outside the approved standards, and either have no contract in place at all, or have one which doesn’t meet the criteria for an apprenticeship agreement, the arrangement will by default be a traditional contract of apprenticeship with all the rights and obligations that come with it.

 

If you’re not sure whether the contracts you have with apprentices meet the requirements for an apprentice agreement, or would like assistance drafting suitable contracts for apprentices, do get in touch.