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What should I do if my apprentice is due to finish their fixed-term contract during the pandemic?

Employers who have apprentices on fixed-term contracts due to end during the pandemic should discuss arrangements with the apprentices including whether an extension to the contract can be offered to allow them to complete their apprenticeship.

Related FAQs

How the furlough scheme changed from 1 July – what is flexible furlough?

From 1 July 2020 the furlough scheme has been operating more flexibly.

The key changes from 1 July 2020 were:

  • All furloughed employees are subject to the new flexible furlough rules and the new basis for calculating claims
  • Furloughed employees can be brought back to work on a part-time basis for any amount of time and can work any work pattern
  • Employers can claim for the hours not worked compared the hours the person would normally have worked in that period
  • There must be a new written furlough agreement in place to record the agreement with the furloughed employee to return to work part-time
  • The new agreement (including a collective agreement) must be made before any period of flexible furlough begins but it may be varied at a later stage if necessary. The agreement must be incorporated into the employee’s contract of employment, either expressly or impliedly
  • Employers must keep a record of this agreement until at least 30 June 2025, and they must also keep a record of the hours the furlough employee worked and the hours that they were furloughed
  • Employees can be furloughed from 1 July 2020 for any amount of time and more than once
  • However, if you re-furloughed an employee after 10 June but before 1 July 2020, they had to be furloughed for an initial period of three consecutive weeks
  • Claims for payments under the scheme must not cross calendar months so if you are claiming for the initial three week period of a re-furloughed employee who was furloughed on 12 June for example, you must submit separate claims for the dates in June and July
  • Although flexible furlough agreements can last any length of time, you should only submit a claim to HMRC once a week.
Agreeing or imposing changes

A reduction in hours or salary or changes to hours or patterns of work is a contractual change – you can’t just impose it without significant risk. The same applies for lay-off or short-time working where there is no existing contractual right to impose these.

In summary, the process that an employer should follow to implement these measures is as follows:

  1. Communicate the Company’s position clearly and the urgent need to achieve temporary cost-saving to ensure the ongoing financial viability of the organisation
  2. Explain the proposed changes in detail and seek the employee’s agreement, and
  3. Record the agreed changes in a letter which is counter-signed by the employee.

If employees will not agree then employers will be at substantial risk of claims for unlawful deduction of wages, breach of contract and/or constructive unfair dismissal if they seek to impose these changes unilaterally. Employers should be mindful that this approach is likely to cause significant employee relations issues and dissatisfaction if only some employees agree to a reduction in pay. Employers should have a clear strategy for what their approach will be if this is the case – for example, they may wish to instead explore a different measure such as redundancies. This may form part of the employer’s communication when explaining the reason for the changes and seeking the employee’s agreement.

Unions: Employers should also be aware that where there is a recognised trade union in respect of any part of the workforce which is being asked to agree to a change to terms and conditions, the recognition agreement or collective agreement will require the employer to consult and/or negotiate with the trade union in the first instance.

Collective consultation: Where 20 or more dismissals are proposed at one establishment in any 90-day period, there are stringent collective consultation rules which apply (regardless of whether the employees have two years’ service or not). All dismissals count towards this total unless the dismissal is “not related to the individual concerned” – therefore dismissals for things such as conduct or capability do not count, but most other dismissals will count. This will include where you are imposing changes to the contract such as reduced hours or pay.

The rules on collective consultation set out a prescriptive and time-consuming process which must be followed, and minimum timescales before any redundancies can take effect. The cost of any claims relating to failure to follow collective consultation requirements are substantial, and specific advice should therefore always be sought before seeking to implement collective redundancies. We will be publishing further guidance on this on the Hub shortly.

Understanding of the extent of the Covid-19 risk to BAME colleagues is evolving – what does that mean for NHS employers?

In practice this means that any risk assessment will need to be reviewed constantly and adjusted as our understanding of the nature and level of the risk grows.

Some service-providers are instigating special Oversight Groups to keep this issue under review but engagement and consultation with those affected is critical and making sure they feel confident to raise concerns and refuse to work if they believe they are not safe.

How does COVID-19 affect Right to Work checks?

All employers have a duty to prevent illegal working, and carrying out proper Right to Work checks are a fundamental part of this. In light of Covid-19, the Home Office has brought in some temporary measures for employers to use to carry out the requisite Right to Work checks. Failure to follow these could lead to enforcement action and penalties.

Can we still use the furlough (coronavirus job retention scheme)?

Yes. For further guidance, please see our FAQs section on Furlough.