Sometimes an employer may ask you to work a trial shift that is unpaid.
An unpaid trial is only allowed to enable the employer to see if you have the required skills and are suitable for the job. Any other unpaid trial is unlawful: it’s wage theft.
More than one unpaid trial is not okay! Unpaid trial shifts that go for a long time, or over multiple shifts, are almost always illegal.
You must be paid while you are training.
If the employer wants to spend longer assessing your skills, this is known as a probation period, and you must be paid for all hours worked. If the boss wants you to do training shifts, that’s okay – but they must be paid. For more information on probation periods, look at our fact sheet here.
When is an unpaid trial shift legal?
An unpaid trial shift under the law must be as brief as is necessary to determine whether you are suitable for the job, and:
It must involve a demonstration of your relevant skills, for example taking orders in a café or customer service in a shop.
The trial shift can only be unpaid for as long as is needed to demonstrate the skills required for the job. This could be as little as an hour, or as long as a single shift.
You must be under the direct supervision of the potential employer (or supervisor) for the entire trial.
When is an unpaid trial shift illegal?
Some dodgy employers may ask you to work multiple unpaid trial shifts. This is unlawful. If an employer wants to spend longer assessing your skills after an unpaid trial shift, they must pay you for all hours worked.
It is also illegal to be paid less than the minimum wage – for example a “trial shift rate”.
Elle is asked to come in for a trial shift at a local café. The Manager, Kathy, who also works on the floor, supervises her as she takes orders and makes coffees for 1 hour. At the end of the shift, Kathy tells her that she has been successful and will be offered a position.
This is okay. Elle has only been asked to demonstrate that she has the required skills for the position, and is being supervised and assessed. The trial runs for a reasonable period of time given the skills and knowledge required.
Jordan has been asked to do an unpaid trial shift as a Kitchen Hand at a restaurant. He agrees, and washes dishes and completes other duties over the course of a 3 hour shift. At the end of the shift, the Manager, Mark, asks him to come back on Friday night for another trial shift. He says that after Jordan has completed three trial shifts, he can start getting paid.
This is not okay. Jordan should not be asked to do more than one unpaid trial shift, because he has already demonstrated that he has the skills required for the job.
What if I am being asked to do unpaid trial shifts?
If you are being asked to do multiple unpaid trial shifts or training, or are not getting what you are entitled to, get in touch with us. We can give you advice about what your entitlements are, and help you decide what to do. We can also direct you to other people who can help.