Apprentices are legally treated as employees so they would have basic employment rights just as any other employee. In addition, they will have further rights for being an apprentice and these would depend on whether they are employed under an apprenticeship contract or an apprenticeship agreement. There are distinct differences between the two and I will explain how each one operates legally below:
1. Apprenticeship contract
This is the more traditional situation and exists if an employer has an agreement with an individual, the main purpose of which is for them to be trained by the employer. It is not necessary for any formal written contract to exist for that to be the case as long as it is clear that it was a relationship where specific training was the primary purpose of employment.
Someone employed under an apprenticeship contract would arguable have better rights that someone employed under an apprenticeship agreement. That is because in addition to a contract of employment, there would be a contract for training for the duration of the apprenticeship. In these circumstances an apprentice can only be dismissed if they were found guilty of serious misconduct or extremely poor performance, where it is deemed that they are untrainable. They cannot be made redundant, unless the business closes. If the apprenticeship is not terminated for these reasons, the apprentice could potentially seek compensation for the loss of earnings under the apprenticeship contract plus the loss of potential future earnings. The leading case on this is Dunk v George Waller & Sons.
2. Apprenticeship agreement
For such an agreement to exist it must be issued in accordance with the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009 or under an approved apprenticeship framework. It must be in writing and state that it is issued under this Act or a recognised framework.
If the employment is under an apprenticeship agreement, the apprentice’s rights will not be as good as if they were employed under an apprenticeship contract. It means that there is no expectation that they would be retained for the period of training or that the employer could be acting in breach of contract if they dismiss them early. The apprentice can be dismissed subject to the usual fair dismissal rules, including being made redundant. They would be entitled to their contractual notice period and any accrued holidays but not to any further damages for the loss of opportunities or loss of training. It is also important to note that as no unfair dismissal protection applies to employees (or apprentices working under an apprenticeship agreement) in the first 2 years of service, they can be dismissed quite easily, even if there was no apparent fair reason for doing so.