Employers in many sectors, like retail, hospitality, and creative, use the tried-and-tested sit-down interview process to find potential employees to join their businesses.

However, it can sometimes be difficult to know from a conversation alone how well a candidate can do the job.

That is why increasing numbers of employers are asking applicants to undertake a work trial, during which they can assess candidates’ suitability for a role.

For many work trials, there is a fine line between using unpaid shifts as part of the recruitment process and exploitation. There are differing opinions on the use of work trials, with trade unions condemning the practice altogether.

As the COVID-19 lockdown eases across the UK and the impact of Brexit lingers, staff shortages in various industries may encourage some employers to make use of these unpaid work trials to help them bridge their lack of resources.

Nevertheless, employers ought to do so with caution as they must be part of a genuine recruitment process and not extend beyond a few hours’ work.

As work trials do not necessarily lead to a job offer, it can be unclear to employers whether they should be paying these candidates a wage during the trial period or whether they should be carrying out these trials for free.

An additional question that many HR professionals and employers have been considering is ‘if these candidates are being paid for a trial, should this meet the national minimum wage or national living wage?’

Measuring whether candidates should be offered the national minimum wage is difficult to assess. However, the longer the trial period, the more likely it is that it results in a contract to provide work, which would mean the national minimum wage or national living wage is payable.

The trial should be limited to what is necessary for the employer to assess their abilities to perform the job being offered. Therefore, individuals working trial periods lasting more than one day are likely to be entitled to the national minimum wage or national living wage.

This may differ depending on the extent that the individual is being observed while carrying out the trial and the nature of the tasks being executed. Additionally, it may depend on whether the tasks carried out have a value to the employer beyond testing the individual’s skill set.

It is essential that businesses thinking of using unpaid work trial periods do so with caution if they are to avoid investigation, fines, or penalties. HMRC is continuing to step up its enquiries into failures to pay the national minimum wage and national living wage and work trials could well be in its sights.

At HR Caddy, we can guide you through the process of looking at your current workforce needs now and in the future.

Whether you need advice on the recruitment process, work trials in particular, or general staff shortages, contact our expert team today.