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Trials and Tribulations

Trials and Tribulations

Now that the universities, colleges and schools are all out for summer, a lot of students and young people are scrambling furiously for work. With countless applicants to choose from, a lot of employers assess suitability through workplace trials. The food and drink industry in particular, tend to favour trials. Here we have a look at what to expect from such trials, and how applicants can prepare for them.

How long is a typical trial period?

This will depend on the industry; whether the post is full or part time; whether the appointment is fixed term or permanent; whether the post is fixed hours or a zero hours contract, and most importantly – the experience of the organisation and the status of the employer. Larger companies and chains tend to have centralised Human Resources facilities, and trial periods will normally be governed by their policies. Smaller independent organisations tend to be more ad hoc, so it is important to seek clarification on the terms and conditions of their trial periods. A corporate position could have a trial period of up to six months, while the food and drink industry normally has trials of just a few hours.

Will I have to wear a uniform?

Larger organisations and chains will provide a uniform if it is required. Independent organisations tend to be a bit more relaxed with trial workers, but they may specify the colours to be worn. The food and drink industry tend to favour black attire, sometimes with a white shirt.

Employers are obliged to advise all workers – including trial workers – if the nature of a post requires protective clothing. If the employer provides contracted workers with protective clothing, they will normally be expected to supply trial workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that meets industry safety standards too. Faulty or condemned PPE must not be retained for trial workers and trainees.

Is a current Disclosure Barring Service (DBS) certificate required for trial work?

You are not allowed to work unsupervised with children or vulnerable adults without a valid DBS certificate. Check out for more information about DBS.

What about health and safety?

If there are more than five workers in an organisation, the employer is obliged to have vigorous and enforced health and safety procedures in place. Trial workers should be shown the safe way to handle machinery and hazardous substances; and how to lift and carry things safely; but formal health and safety training may be withheld until a contract of employment is confirmed. In all organisations - if you require specific qualifications or a licence to practice, you will be expected to produce them before undertaking any trial period.

Are medicals required for trial work?

In some cases, an employer can insist on even trial workers having a documented and up to date vaccination record. This is to prevent compromising the health of others in the workplace – including service users.

Is there a minimum age for bar work?

Many bars and licenced premises will not employ anyone under 18. Others will employ under 18s to collect glasses and clear tables but will not allow them to work behind the bar. While under 18s are not allowed to drink alcohol on licenced premises, it is perfectly legal in the UK for 16 and 17 year olds to sell it with the business manager’s consent. Have a look at the following link for more information However, some local governments/councils enforce stricter regulations which prohibit anyone under the age of 18 to sell cigarettes, tobacco or alcohol.

Can trial workers operate heavy machinery?

Yes - but only after the employer has demonstrated how to handle the equipment safely. Even if you have a qualification or licence to prove that you have handled similar machinery before, minor modifications from one model to another can significantly compromise both handling and understanding of equipment. If the employer is unable to take you through safety procedures adequately, you may want to rethink whether you should work for them at all!

Are trial workers paid?

Work of up to 2 hours may be unpaid. Payment for a longer trial shift is still at the discretion of the employer. The law does not stipulate that the employer must pay for longer shifts, so it is important to seek clarity before undertaking any trial period. Although difficult to prove, verbal contracts are legally binding, so if an employer agrees to pay you wages or expenses beforehand, they cannot renege /back out on the agreement. It is important to consider, if an employer is prepared to engage

unpaid trial workers for more than 6 or 7 hours, how difficult it might be to be paid correctly if a trial is deemed to be ‘successful’.

Where to get advice

At Serious About Solutions, we specialise in workplace issues nd concerns. For free basic advice, email us at You can also get advice from a trade union via the following link:

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