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News from young workers

Can a boss ask me to do an unpaid trial?

At the Young Workers Centre we hear about lots of employers asking young people to complete unpaid trials. They often ask young workers to do a whole shift – or lots of shifts – before offering them a job so they can check their skill level. Then, you know what? Sometimes they don’t even offer the job, meaning they’ve just received hours and hours of free labour! We’ve even heard of bosses asking young workers to complete unpaid trials on public holidays to avoid paying public holiday rates.

So, can a boss ask me to do an unpaid trial?

The short answer is yes, but only in very specific circumstances. Where a trial shift does not meet these requirements it will be unlawful (illegal) resulting in wage theft.

What does a legal unpaid trial look like?

According to the Fair Work Ombudsman an employer may ask you to do an unpaid trial to demonstrate specific skills required for the particular job and the trial should be no longer than is necessary to demonstrate those skills.

You should also be directly supervised by the potential employer for the whole of the trial.

For example, you may be asked to make a couple of coffees on a whizz bang industrial machine. That trial will be really short, like an hour or even less.

What does an illegal unpaid trial look like?

An unpaid trial will be illegal where:

  • There are no skills necessary to demonstrate for that job
  • Demonstration of necessary skills have gone on longer than necessary (while this will depend on the complexity of the role and the industry unpaid trials should never exceed a full shift. Any trial which lasts more than a day is considered probationary employment which must be paid for according to the minimum wage)
  • The trial involves more than simply demonstrating the worker’s skills
  • There is no direct supervision during the trial

Red flags to look out for.

A couple things to keep an eye out for when you are offered a trial shift include:

  1. Multiple unpaid trial shifts: This is illegal. If a boss wants to spend more time assessing your skills after an unpaid trial they must pay you for all hours worked at no less that the minimum wage.
  2. Trial shift rate: There is no such thing as a trial shift rates, employers must pay you at least the minimum wage.
  3. Being asked to do more than demonstrate your skills: You should not be expected to fulfil the duties of a paid staff member on an unpaid trial shift.
  4. They pay you in food: A free lunch is not the same as being paid for a trial shift. It costs employers in hospitality very little to prepare a single serve of food and it is not adequate payment for your time.

Where can I get help?

If an employer is making you complete unlawful unpaid trials, or you are having any other work related issue you can reach out to the Young Workers Centre for free and confidential legal advice for young workers under 30. You can contact us here.