The recent employment tribunal case of Kinnear v Marley Eternit Ltd highlights the potential financial risks of dismissing an apprentice before he/she completes their apprenticeship.

Mr Kinnear had entered into a 4-year, fixed-term apprenticeship with his employer, which was due to expire in November 2018, upon completion of his qualification as a Roofer.  However, Mr Kinnear was made redundant in June 2016 due to a downturn in work.

Mr Kinnear was awarded £25,000 in respect of damages (the maximum amount an Employment Tribunal can award for a breach of contract claim).  This was given on the basis that the Employment Judge found Mr Kinnear would be unlikely to be able to finish his apprenticeship with another firm because of his age and, as such, his future losses were likely to stretch over some years.  Consequently, he would be disadvantaged in the labour market going forward, by not having attained his qualification in his chosen trade.

Employers should note that training is the primary purpose of a contract of apprenticeship, while doing work for the employer is secondary.  As such, apprentices employed under a contract of apprenticeship have enhanced rights on termination of their employment compared to ‘ordinary’ employees, and employers owe them greater obligations.  Moreover, an employer has significantly less scope for dismissing an apprentice employed under a contract of apprenticeship than an ‘ordinary’ employee.  Accordingly, if a business finds itself experiencing a downturn in trade, it will require to demonstrate that it has taken all reasonable steps to find alternative placements for the apprentices who are at risk, as redundancy really should be a last resort, given the risks involved.  Furthermore, if the apprentices have more than 2 years’ service they will be eligible to bring claims for unfair dismissal as well as damages claims for breach of contract.

Any member companies who employ apprentices and are entering a redundancy situation should contact Scottish Engineering for advice.