Trial Shifts UK – Do You Get Paid & How Long Should They Be?

Trial shifts can be used as a part of the recruitment process and are regularly used in hospitality and retail settings.

If you’ve been invited to do a work trial, you may be questioning if trial shifts are legal, and if they’re paid. Our guide looks at the whole process, when a work trial should be paid, and offers tips for success when you try out for a new job.

Being invited to do a short trial shift is different to being on probation in a job. Probation periods at work are generally for a set period. They’re usually 1 – 12 months long depending on the role. They will be covered in a work contract, and you are still protected to some extent by employment laws.

Trial shifts, on the other hand, tend to be more casual but are still there to serve a purpose. They should be very short term, and used to see if you are a good fit for the team.

Trial Shift Meaning – What to Expect

You’ve been asked to do a trial shift so what can you expect from the whole experience?

Commonly used by the service industry, trial shifts are used as a crucial part of the recruitment process. It’s a shortened version of the probation period, put in place to see how an individual handles the work.

A trial shift will usually only consist of an hour or two tops. If you’re being asked to do more than this, or being asked to do multiple trial shifts, it is a major red flag. You can expect to be shadowed during this trial by a supervisor who will assess your skills on the job.

You might expect to do a trial shift in the following lines of work:

  • Hospitality such as a pub or restaurant
  • Retail
  • Warehouse
  • Domestic work eg cleaner or nanny
  • Childcare such as a preschool or childminder’s assistant

Does a Trial Shift Mean I’ve Got the Job?

A trial shift can be viewed as the next stage after a successful interview. However it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job at the end of the shift.

Whether or not your trial shift leads to a permanent position will depend on how your time there goes. Your supervisor will watch you work and assess how your skills relate to the tasks you are required to carry out.

After the shift, you will both have a good idea if this type of job is suitable for you.

Do You Get Paid for Trial Shifts?

Ideally, trial shifts should be paid. However, it is legal for companies to carry out an unpaid trial shift as part of their genuine recruitment process.

This should all be laid out in their policies which you can ask to view. The system is being abused by some industries, in particular hospitality and retail, so make sure you ask how long the shift will be.

If you don’t feel comfortable with how long you’re being asked to work unpaid, it’s likely a red flag.

Are Unpaid Trial Shifts Legal?

There’s long standing concern regarding workers being exploited by the practise of unpaid trial shifts. It is illegal for employees to be paid under the national minimum wage.

Whilst unpaid trials themselves are not considered illegal, it is possible for dishonest employers to be taken to a tribunal for exploiting the process.

The HMRC has created guidance around scenarios where minimum wage may be required to be paid.

However, the guidance is not law but an indication of the factors an employment tribunal would consider before making an award.

The HMRC guidance says a tribunal would consider whether the trial:-

  • Was genuinely for recruitment purposes.
  • Exceeded a reasonable time to assess the candidate’s abilities.
  • Involved the candidate being closely observed.
  • Featured tasks unrelated to the job being offered, and / or if they had value to the business beyond the assessment process.

The HMRC concludes that the longer a trial shift lasts, the more likely it is that minimum wage should be paid.

Source: HMRC – Eligibility for Minimum Wage

The issue with the guidance is that to seek recourse for exploitation, a worker would have to go through a lengthy tribunal process. The HMRC guidelines are open to broad interpretation. Many consider this to be an inadequate level of legal protection.

How Long Should a Trial Shift Last?

An unpaid trial shift should not last more than an hour or two, and has to be part of a genuine recruitment strategy.

If your trial shift lasts longer than a few hours, or you are asked to do multiple ones, then you should be paid at least the National Minimum Wage.

Do make sure you:-

  • Agree to a set time for the trial period.
  • Discuss payment for anything over this.
  • Understand the trial shift process from start to finish.

Tips to Pass Your Trial Shift

A little anxious before your trial shift with your potential employer? Fear not, our tips will help you pass your trial shift with flying colours.

  1. Research the company and the job description so you can be prepared for the jobs you may be asked to do.
  2. Be on time – first impressions are key and rocking up late isn’t going to cut it quite frankly.
  3. Be rested the night before, no wild partying the night before, it’s not big and it’s not clever! PJs, slippers, a cup of tea and bed by 9 pm!
  4. Dress appropriately – check the dress code or ask in advance what you should wear.
  5. Be enthusiastic and friendly with everyone you meet during your trial.
  6. Be confident, but not overconfident. Don’t turn up pretending to know everything as you’ll likely come across as cocky.
  7. Use your initiative where possible. Showing you are capable of thinking on your feet is a great attribute to show off.
  8. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something or need help. No one can know everything in one day.
  9. Be yourself as much as you can. There is no point in trying to second guess what they want in an employee to the point you are putting on an act.
  10. Relax and remember this is a good experience for you too, even if you aren’t taken on after.

What Happens After a Trial Shift?

Phew, you’ve worked your trial shift, so what happens now?  It’s a good sign that you were invited to do a trial as it shows you shone in your interview. So after your trial, you’ll be desperate to hear how you got on.

A few things may happen and this will depend on how the company runs their recruitment process. They may have several potential employees to trial. That’ll mean it might be a bit of a waiting game to see who is the best candidate. Or you might be lucky and given the job on the spot – result!

In the event you do not hear back then it’s perfectly acceptable to make the first move. This is especially true if you have other interviews lined up. It might play on your mind that they haven’t been in touch, but there may well be a genuine reason so just take the initiative and give them a ring. There’s nothing to lose, after all, and it will stop you from stressing.

During the call:-

  • Be polite.
  • Explain who is calling and why.
  • Ask to speak to the supervisor.
  • Keep calm and don’t be afraid to ask why you didn’t get the job, should this be the case. This will help you move forward to your next job.

In some cases, the employer may ask you to attend another trial if they’ve been unable to make up their mind.

This is fine, but you should expect to be paid for this seeing as you’ve most likely done one unpaid already.

If You Get The Job

If you are told you have been successful and are offered the job, the next stage may be a job induction. Our guide on what happens at a job induction has more on what you can expect in your first days on the job.

Your initial contract may include a probation period. Again, this is common practice in many companies. During this time, you may have a shorter notice period. There may be meetings at regular intervals to discuss training needs and progress towards a permanent contract.

Further Reading


Are unpaid shifts legal?

There are no set laws in place when it comes to unpaid shifts, however a trial shift, if it’s unpaid, should only last an hour or two.

How long can a trial shift last?

Usually, a trial shift will only last for a few hours but it will depend on the work involved. Anything more than a few hours then it’s fair to expect to be paid for your time.

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