Construction employers who offer apprenticeships are being warned that if they withdraw training early, they may be acting in breach of employment laws.
Recently, an employment tribunal awarded a trainee roof tiler £25,000, after his apprenticeship with employer, Marley Contract Services, ended early.
Daniel Kinnear signed an employment contract with Marley Eternit in October 2014 and his contract of apprenticeship was meant to run until November 2018.
However, in June 2016, he was advised that there had been a downturn in business and that his employment was being terminated on the basis of redundancy. His appeal against dismissal was rejected.
Mr Kinnear took his claim for breach of contract to an employment tribunal, with the company not entering a defence.
Tribunal Judge, Mr J M Henry, commented: “It seems clear to the tribunal that the claimant was an apprentice and, as such, he was entitled to be trained by the respondent company and employed by them until the apprenticeship finished. In this case that would be until November 2018. It seems from the correspondence that no heed was paid by the company to the claimant’s particular status in the company.”
In upholding Mr Kinnear’s claim, the tribunal noted that he had 122 weeks left to run on his apprenticeship, which equated to lost pay of £24,217. The tribunal also acknowledged that the lack of a roofing qualification might disadvantage him in the labour market for a number of years to come.
Lara Murray, an Associate Solicitor with Palmers, who specialise in employment law, said: “This case highlights the fact that apprentices benefit from a range of rights that are not extended to other employees.
“Their status enjoys special protection under employment law but many employers are not aware that they cannot simply be treated like conventional members of the workforce, particularly when it comes to redundancy.
“The construction and engineering sectors are reliant upon apprentices to ensure sufficient numbers of skilled workers for the future. However, anyone operating in this sector needs to be aware of the rules relating to apprentice employees. For example, a company will, in all likelihood, find themselves in breach of contract if they dismiss an apprentice on the basis that they can no longer afford to keep them on.
“A failure to understand the rules relating to the protection of apprentices’ rights, could lead to an employer facing a costly employment tribunal, as happened in this particular case.”
For help and advice on all aspects of employment law, including contracts, rights of apprentices and redundancy matters, please contact us.