Should bosses be allowed to ask candidates to do an unpaid trial shift

Should bosses be allowed to ask candidates to do an unpaid trial shift without guaranteeing them a job at the end?

Under new proposals that were recently put forward by MPs, unpaid shifts offered to candidates at interview level could soon be banned. This is where the hiring company weigh candidates up against each other, by inviting them for a ‘trial shift’ in the work environment. They’re common in the hospitality industry where candidates may do a shift in the kitchen or waiting on. They are often unpaid, with expenses also being the responsibility of the hopeful applicant.

As the popularity of these shifts has increased over the past three years, there’s been a six-fold increase in complaints about them says the union Unite. They said that whilst some of them are genuine, too often “shadow shifts” cross over to labour and exploitation. Recently, a private members bill that seeks to make unpaid trials illegal will get its second parliamentary reading.It will address employer requirements over these shifts, such as the need to provide feedback and timescales. More importantly, the bill states employees should be paid at least the national minimum wage for their efforts.

Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, is one of the MPs backing the bill. He said "excessively long" trial shifts are not working.

"People are being asked to try out for jobs that don't exist. Companies are just trying to cover staff absences in other parts of the business. This is about ending that exploitation and empowering applicants and making sure there is dignity throughout the process.

However, the Federation of Small Businesses, representing employers across the UK, said that unpaid shifts are a valuable part of the recruitment process. However, they agree that they shouldn’t cross the line into exploitation.

Colin Borland from the Federation of Small Businesses said: "Small businesses can sometimes be reticent about hiring or even looking to expand headcount when the work is there because they are worried about making the wrong decision.

"The more that we can do to make sure that they hire the right people the better. You just have to be very careful that it doesn't cross into what's exploitative."


What the law currently says

With record numbers of candidates applying for interviews, trial shifts are increasingly being used by employers as an integral part of the recruitment process. However, whilst being beneficial to employers who can see how an employee performs in the workplace, they come at the expense of time and money for the candidate.

In the UK, trial shifts are not illegal, but it’s a grey area as to whether employers should pay for them. The law states that all workers have to paid the minimum wage. However, it’s hard to say where ‘testing you out to see if you should get the job’ stops and ‘using you to just do the actual job without paying you’ starts.