Pre-registration: employment contracts

This fact sheet contains information about employment contracts for pre-registration trainees.

What is an employment contract?

A contract of employment is an agreement between an employer and employee. The employment contract sets out the terms and conditions of employment. These terms can also often be found in employee hand books or in an offer letter from an employer.

Some terms, known as implied terms, may not be set out in a contract. Examples include an expectation that employees will not steal from their employers and that employers will provide a safe and secure working environment.

Once an employment offer has been accepted, whether verbally or in writing, the contract starts.

No written contract?

An employment contract does not have to be written down. However, trainees should also note that they should (in the absence of a written employment contract) receive a written statement of their main terms and conditions within two months of starting work. This statement should include details such as pay, holidays and working hours. It is a statutory requirement for employers to provide employees with written terms of employment within two months of commencing work.

Before accepting an offer

It is advisable to request a copy of the employment contract and read it carefully before accepting an offer. Students who are looking for a pre-registration placement should consider what they are accepting in advance of taking up an offer.

Trainees may find that they have agreed to terms and conditions that are not advantageous to them if they wish to leave. Examples include, long notice periods, financial penalty clauses for leaving early and paying back any training costs that the employer has financed.

For further information about employment contracts and written statements, see the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website.

Statutory and contractual rights

All employees have basic rights in the workplace. Trainees who have not yet been provided with a written contract and/or a written statement still have statutory rights which include:-

  • the right to be paid at least the national minimum wage
  • the right to paid holidays
  • the right to weekly and daily rest breaks
  • the right to statutory sick pay
  • the right to work a maximum 48-hour week.

An employment contract cannot take away rights that all employees have by law. For example, full time employees are entitled to 28 days paid holiday per year. Pre-registration trainees should get the full allowance as they will be working for a twelve month period. Even if employers offer less paid holidays than is legal, the statutory minimum applies.

Employers can choose to offer enhanced benefits in an employment contract, for example, 30 days paid holiday. Trainees whose contract gives them greater rights should note that if the contract states 30 days paid holiday, then it is the contract (not the statutory minimum) that applies.

Trainees should not sign contracts that take away any of their statutory rights, for example, only offering 20 days paid holiday as opposed to 28. Many contracts contain a clause stating that if one part of the contract is invalid the remainder is still operational by law. Any trainees who are offered contracts that take away their statutory rights should seek advice immediately.

For further information about all statutory rights, see the Citizens Advice website.

Rates of pay

Trainees in community placements will not necessarily receive the whole of the pre-registration grant. It is up to the employer to decide what salary to offer, however it must meet the national minimum wage (for those aged under 25) or the national living wage (for those aged 25 and over). Trainees who are offered a very low rate of pay should consider whether:-

  • it meets government minimum rates
  • it will be enough to cover day to day living expenses. Trainees should not forget to factor in costs such as travel to and from work, registering for the assessment, supporting themselves financially between finishing placements and starting work and GPhC registration on completion of training.

If the rate offered is going to cause serious financial hardship it might be best to continue looking for a better rate.

Trainees can check to see if they are receiving the minimum wage using the government minimum wage calculator.

Holidays

Trainees are entitled to 28 days paid leave during the pre-registration year. These include the eight bank holidays. Trainees who are working in a pharmacy that does not close for bank holidays may be expected to work on these days but will still have to have a total of 28 days paid leave during the year.

Many trainees like to book some annual leave just before sitting the pre-registration assessment in order to allow time for revision. It is a good idea to put in holiday requests as soon as possible. The statutory minimum notice period for taking leave is at least twice as long as the amount of leave requested. For example, trainees who would like two weeks leave will need to put their requests in four weeks prior to leave commencing. However, trainees should check their contracts in case their employer requests a longer period of notice. Whilst employers can refuse to give leave at certain times, they cannot refuse to let workers take leave at all.

Holiday requests should be made in the manner stipulated by the employer and trainees should also ensure that they use the appropriate form. Trainees should also note that a holiday request is only a request. Employers have to consider business needs as well, and not all requests for leave may be granted.

Some contracts can legally contain terms that prevent employees from requesting additional holidays at certain points of the year, for example, Christmas. Employers might find it difficult, for business reasons, to manage long leave requests, for example, four weeks. If a long leave request is anticipated, it would be best to ask your employer at the same time as the job offer is made, and if the employer agrees, ask for it to be written in to the contract of employment.

For further information about holiday leave, see the government website.

Rest breaks

Trainees whose working day is six hours or more are entitled to an uninterrupted break of twenty minutes. This break must not be at the start or the end of the working day. Trainees should also have a rest period of eleven hours in each twenty-four hour period that they are at work. Trainees are also entitled to one day off a week, but this can be averaged over a two week period. For example, trainees can work for twelve days and then have two days off.

Rest breaks are not always paid, trainees should check their contract or ask their employer to clarify whether or not breaks are paid.

For further information about rest breaks, including what to do if an employer will not allow rest breaks to be taken, see the Citizens Advice website.

Sick leave

Trainees who are not well enough to work will get statutory sick pay (SSP) from their employer. This is paid by the employer for up to 28 days. In order to qualify for SSP trainees will have to have been off for more than four days in  a row.

Trainees who are off work for four days or less will not get SSP. Trainees will receive SSP for the fifth and following days off during each period of sick leave. Some employers have a contractual sick pay scheme and trainees should check the terms of their contract to see if there are any enhanced sickness benefits. If the company does not have a sick pay scheme, trainees will not be paid at all for absences of four days or less.

Trainees should be aware that the GPhC only allows trainees to have 40 days off in the pre-registration training year. This includes holidays and sickness. Trainees who think that they are going to go over the 40 day limit should contact the GPhC for further advice.

For further information about SSP including eligibility, see the government website.

Working hours

Trainees who are undertaking a full-time placement will need to ensure that they work a minimum of 35 hours per week in order to fulfil the GPhC requirements. Trainees on a part-time placement will need to work 17.5 hours per week. Trainees can sometimes be offered placements with very long contractual working hours. Trainees should think about how the long hours will fit with study and other life demands throughout the pre-registration year. In the first instance, trainees could try negotiating with a prospective employer to see if the number of hours worked can be reduced.

Notice requirements

Trainees should check their notice requirements carefully. Minimum notice requirements are set out in law (statutory notice), however, employers can set out a longer notice period in the employment contract (contractual notice). Trainees who are offered a contract with a notice requirement that goes beyond one month should seek advice before accepting.

It is also not recommended that trainees accept a contract with different notice requirements for the trainee and the employer. Trainees should continue to be paid at the normal rate if they do hand in their notice.

For further information about notice requirements, see the ACAS website.

Banking and switching and notice requirements

Trainees who decide that they are unable to continue with their placement and would like to change site must get the approval of the GPhC. It might be possible to bank some of the training at a pre-determined point, such as week 13 or week 26. Trainees who are considering this as an option should get in touch with the pre-registration team at the GPhC on 020 371 3800 to ascertain whether they would agree to a change in placement.

For further information, see section 2.22 and 2.23 of the GPhC pre-registration manual.

Trainees should be aware that employers can choose to offer payment in lieu of notice. This can sometimes leave trainees caught between two sign-offs. For example, if a trainee plans to hand in one month’s notice at week 22 to coincide with a leave date of week 26, they could end up with one month’s payment in lieu of notice and thus be changing placements at week 22. In these instances, trainees would have to revert back to week 14 of their training. Given that the NHS will only fund 52 weeks of pre-registration training, all trainees who are thinking of switching placements should seek advice before doing so.

Study time

Employers do not have to offer pre-registration trainees study time. Trainees should be aware that any study time that is agreed between themselves and the employer is only enforceable if it is in their employment contract. Whilst the GPhC recommends that trainees receive study time, this is a recommendation only, it is not a requirement. Trainees who want to ensure that they will get any agreed study time should ask the employer to put it into the employment contract for them.

Employment contract concerns

To sum up, trainees should check their contracts for the following issues before signing:-

  • flexible working hours – ideally trainees should know how many hours they will be working each week – contracts that state usual hours to be 37/40 hours with a further term that states the employee might be required to such hours as needed for the business could leave trainees working up to 48 hours per week without additional pay
  • no defined statement of hours – this can lead to trainees having to work evenings or weekends
  • contracts that state the employee agrees to be exempt from the Working Time Regulation, or work more than 48 hours per week
  • variations in working site
  • long notice period requirements
  • any attempt to reduce statutory rights
  • financial penalty clause, often described as an administrative fee, for leaving before the end of the 12 month contract or for not starting the training placement at all
  • financial penalty for external/internal training provision for leaving before the end of the 12 month contract or for not starting the training placement at all.

If any of the above feature in a contract of employment, trainees should seek advice immediately.

International students

International students should note that as well as all of the standard information on employment contracts, they will also need to satisfy the terms of any visa that they apply for. For further information on visa requirements, see our International students (non-EEA): visa requirements for the pre-registration year fact sheet.

Employment advice from Pharmacist Support

If you have queries about your contract of employment, Pharmacist Support may be able to help by referring you to a specialist Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) adviser. If you would like to be referred, contact us on our general enquiry line: 0808 168 2233, or email us on:info@pharmacistsupport.org.

Employment advice from a trade union

A trade union is an organisation made up of members, and the main aim of a trade union is to protect and advance the interests of its members in the workplace. Trainees might want to consider joining a trade union as membership can give access not just to employment advice, but also help to defend a trainee’s professional reputation and provide professional indemnity insurance.

There are two trade unions that are specifically for pharmacy. These are the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA) and the Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists (GHP).

The PDA does not charge pre-registration trainees membership fees. For further information about what the PDA can offer, visit the PDA website.

The Guild of Healthcare Pharmacists is part of the Unite union. They offer a reduced membership rate to students and pre-registration trainees dependant on salary. For further information, see the Unite website.

Learning contracts 

The learning contract represents the commitment of both the tutor and the trainee to the training programme. As part of the application to join the pre-registration scheme a learning contract must be signed by the tutor and the trainee. Trainees should read the commitments carefully and consider not only how a prospective placement meets the ideals, but also consider what their own role in the training plan will be. The GPhC recommends that trainees keep a copy of the learning contract for their records.

For further information about learning contracts, see our Finding a pre-registration placement fact sheet.

Training plans

The learning contract specifies that an initial training template should be shared with the trainee. Before accepting a placement trainees should ensure that they are happy with the training plan provided. Trainees should be pro-active and should not be afraid to ask questions. If a tutor is not willing to engage and assist with the production of a training plan, then the placement may not be suitable.

For further information about training plans, see our Finding a pre-registration placement fact sheet.