Any employment law experts here? Apprenticeship question!

Don Barzini

Assistant Pro
Jul 4, 2017
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Wondered if anyone has knowledge on these issues. Some background...

A young lady is taken on with a company on an apprenticeship. She’s given a year to complete her training and signs a contract to the effect. There is an unwritten, friendly agreement between her and the boss at the outset that if she doesn’t complete her training within that year, she may be able to stay a bit longer than twelve months in order to complete it. She is put on the standard first year apprentice wage.

Not far into her training she announces that she’s pregnant and therefore will need maternity leave and pay. Her leaving date for maternity is approximately four weeks before the end of her contract. For various reasons, she hasn’t been the best apprentice. She’s behind on her assignments and has failed some of her exams. She wouldn’t have completed her training in that first year anyway, regardless of the maternity issue.

But no problem, the boss is easy going about it. He sorts it all out and she’s paid what she’s owed for her maternity with the agreement that she’ll come back after and they’ll discuss about extending her contract so she can complete her training.

It comes to the time when she’s nearing the end of her maternity leave and both parties want to finalise the details of her return to work. Boss decides that after her four weeks of remaining contract is up, he’ll let her stay to complete her training (even though technically and contractually he could say “get lost” at that point). He therefore places the offer on the table: you can return to compete the four weeks of your 12 month contract on your previous apprentice wage. After that four weeks is up we’ll give you a contract extension for six months i.e. you have six months maximum to complete your training. If you don’t, sorry we can’t extend it any further. But for that six months, because you’ll enter a “second year” of apprenticeship, your hourly rate will go up from apprentice rate to the national minimum wage for your age group.

Apprentice wants to return and is happy with the overall agreement - but disagrees about the hourly rates. She thinks that she has “accrued time” on her apprenticeship whilst being on her maternity leave. Therefore, as soon as she returns she will already be in her second year and should be on the higher rate of pay - not the first year apprentice rate for the first four weeks.

Who is right?

(And by the way, neither ACAS nor the college to which she is attached for her training has been able to give a clear answer on the issue!)

(And sorry it was long!)

Lord Tyrion

Money List Winner
Sep 9, 2014
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Bit of a mess. The words 'friendly and unwritten' should not be anywhere near a workplace / employment situation. It sounds as though the lady is not really the answer, why keep her on anyway? The longer you keep her the harder it will be to get rid of her.

What happens if your boss refuses to offer her more than the original pay? Will she take the company to a tribunal? If no one can answer on here then this sounds like one for an employment lawyer, not one to mess with. Still not sure why you would keep her though.

Edit - Apologies as I know I have not answered your question.


Sep 11, 2011
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There isn't a straight answer to this one.

On the one hand, she is right about time accrued during mat leave. And its not safe to try and contest that aspect as most courts will side with the employee returning from mat leave.

However, she hasn't completed her 1st year training, with the emphasis on 1st year. In that respect the clock stopped and, in theory, she has 4 weeks to pass.

Her boss is making a rod for his own back in offering to extend this, and there may be some wriggle room to negotiate a fair and equitable deal for both parties around the extension, i.e. his offer to extend is met by her willingness to accept an interim pay award, pending full increment on completion of year one.

If she isn't willing to accept this, if it was me as boss, I'd be saying "right, you have 4 weeks to complete year one or your position will be terminated." But again, at first glance, he has inferred a different contract which does have legal standing, even if nothing is in writing yet.

That aside, it sounds like he needs to let HR deal with this, preferably with consistent processes and procedures applicable to all employees. Bespoke deals like this can bite you in the bum at a later date when another employee asks for the same considerations.