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Do You Offer Work Experience Placements? Make Sure You Understand the Rules!

Many businesses take on people in search of work experience on a casual basis – but such informality has its hazards and taking legal advice before entering into such arrangements is always a good idea. The point was clearly made by a tribunal’s ruling that a young woman’s work placement with a law firm amounted to employment for the purposes of statutory maternity pay (SMP).

The woman, who was the niece of the firm’s office manager, had been placed with the firm by a government agency that promotes apprenticeships. The agency paid her an allowance of £35 per week, but the firm took the view that that was not enough to cover her expenses and paid her a further £15 per week.

The arrangement was markedly informal and no contract was signed. The firm described her role as superfluous from a business point of view. She performed menial tasks, such as making tea, answering phones, filing and running errands. The firm expressed concern that, if work experience placements gave rise to a right to SMP, many businesses would think twice before entering into such arrangements, despite their great social benefits, particularly to young people.

After the end of the 12-month placement, the woman was employed by the firm on a somewhat more formal basis for about another four months and she was paid the National Minimum Wage. She informed the firm that she was pregnant soon afterwards and had a baby three months or so after her departure.

After the woman claimed £2,633.78 in SMP, an issue arose as to whether she had been employed by the firm for long enough to qualify for such a payment. In ruling in the woman's favour on that point, the First-tier Tribunal (FTT) found that the initial period of work placement did constitute employment for SMP purposes. It was more likely than not that she had notified the firm at the appropriate time of her intention to claim SMP and the criteria for payment of SMP, contained within Section 164 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992, had therefore been met.



 
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