Unpaid work trials and the minimum wage

Do you ask job applicants to carry out a period of unpaid work to decide whether they have the skills and qualities required for the job? If so, they may be entitled to the minimum wage.

Most workers in the UK must be paid the National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage There are no clear rules, however, for work trials. In practice, payment of the minimum wage depends on the answers to several questions:

  • Is the work trial genuinely for recruitment purposes? If not, it is a work contract and the minimum wage is payable.
  • How long is the trial? HMRC considers that no more than a day is usually needed to test a candidate’s qualities.
  • To what extent is the individual observed in carrying out tasks during the trial?
  • What is the nature of the tasks in the trial and how do they relate to the job being offered?
  • Do the tasks the person carries out provide any value to the employer beyond just testing the applicant? If so, the applicant is likely to be treated as a worker.
  • Is the employer actually using trial periods to reduce labour costs?

Employers should also take care about internships, work experience and volunteers, where similar considerations apply.