Is it normal for employers to offer a low-paid one week trial period?
January 16, 2018 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I had an interview for a graphic design job in another city a couple of months ago and they just offered me a paid one week trial period with a day rate of £50. This doesn't come close to covering my travel and accommodation costs. Is this kind of thing normal?

They said the trial is for my benefit because I'd be making such a big commitment by relocating, but the fact that I'm relocating makes the trial week impossible. If I do it I'll be hundreds of pounds out of pocket with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. I explained that £50 isn't enough to cover my expenses and they said that they couldn't offer more because it wouldn't be fair to the other applicants who've done trials there. I'm a little shocked that they expect people to work for a week in a very demanding job for less than minimum wage.
posted by Chenko to Work & Money (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It is becoming more normal for employers to use short employment periods as a "try-out" period for employees. Some argue that this is more effective and fair than interviews, as it shows the employer how you actually work rather than just how you answer interview questions. Some employers do this well - Automattic is often provided as an example. Those employers will pay you generously for your time, take care of your expenses for that trial period, and will put a large amount of effort into ensuring that they are providing you with a positive view of the company while simultaneously evaluating your competency for a legitimate and well-paid job position.

Other employers use those period as discount labor. They tend to figure that if they're able to employ someone for, say, 1/2 of market rate, it doesn't matter if that person leaves quickly because they've made up for the cost of a replacement by paying sub-market wages.

The employer in your question sounds like it's in the latter category. You don't want to work for such an employer - their nickle and diming won't stop after a week.
posted by saeculorum at 11:13 AM on January 16, 2018 [18 favorites]

So I just went through this for my current job. the company I'm at now offered me a contract-to-hire position as a "get to know you" period. What seems to be different is that they were willing to pay market rate contract wage (2x my salary) during the period.

If they are only offering you a pittance, I'd be concerned that it was a prelude fo a job where they screwed you over at every opportunity.
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:20 AM on January 16, 2018 [12 favorites]

because it wouldn't be fair to the other applicants who've done trials there.

This is not on you.

If they're sincerely interested in you, they can cover transport tickets and a room, without paying you directly.

It's fair if no future applicants are expected to subsidize the company this way.
posted by amtho at 11:20 AM on January 16, 2018 [4 favorites]

No, not normal. ACAS say that at most, work trials should be a few hours, anything more should be at least minimum wage. A week is taking the piss completely.

And I agree with saeculorum, their cheapness will not stop here.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:20 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I should note after reading the linked HBR article on Automattic, it sounds like they only pay $25/hour for their trial period. I don't consider that appropriate. I don't know anything about the company (I just vaguely remembered it from reading about it a long time ago with regards to employment tryouts) and I'm not advocating for their hiring process. Personally, I would never work for a company that insisted on a trial period, as I would have to be leaving a known-good job for only the possibility of a job offer at an unknown pay rate at the new organization.
posted by saeculorum at 11:23 AM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Since you're using pounds and not dollars, I'm guessing you are in England and so I'm not sure what labor laws are there. But -- is it even legal to offer under minimum wage where you live? This whole arrangement strikes me as a huge red flag that this company does not treat their workers well, and I think you're probably best served to run far away.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:25 AM on January 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

So you'd have to travel there and work full time for a week for £250? That doesn't sound like a company I would want to work for.

(Disclosure: I work for Automattic on one of the hiring teams.) Because we're 100% remote, there's no issue about travel and accommodation costs, but beyond that, we have more respect for the time of our applicants. The trial is an opportunity for us to evaluate the candidate, but importantly, also an opportunity for the candidate to evaluate us. And the trial can be done full-time or part-time. It doesn't have to take the place of the applicant's current job.
posted by pyjammy at 11:26 AM on January 16, 2018 [8 favorites]

Yeah, that's asinine. If I were to offer something like this as an employer I would consider myself obligated to cover travel expenses and pay something at least similar to the proposed long-term rate - the hourly rate would likely be higher, actually, assuming the trial was done on a 1099 basis, since there are no benefits paid and you're responsible for all taxes.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:12 PM on January 16, 2018

They're looking to get cheap labor for a week. Probably for some shitty low-dollar job, or to cover while a regular employee is on holiday.

Just say no.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:27 PM on January 16, 2018 [5 favorites]

I grew up in a small town, and the one-screen movie theater had a racket where they hired projectionists and required them to do a two-week, unpaid trial period before they were paid wages. Of course, they hardly every kept any of them on for more than the two weeks.

I'd pass on this job, especially given their response to your negotiation efforts. "But we've already screwed these other people" is not a very good answer.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:50 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

In the U.K., this is not legal. This webpage at explicitly states that workers on probation are still entitled to the national minimum wage, which is currently £7.50 per hour if you're over 25. It is also illegal for employers to pay less than the minimum wage to workers who qualify for it.
posted by meronym at 12:52 PM on January 16, 2018 [7 favorites]

Agreeing with others that this is both illegal and unethical but wanted to add that it is particularly asinine - and suspect - given that they are trying to hire a graphic designer. I've hired many a graphic designer and it's the easiest position to hire for, you just need to look at someone's portfolio! If the candidate doesn't have one, which is rare and a bit of a red flag (unless they are just starting out) then you give them a simple job and voila, that's the trial. This is almost certainly a scam.
posted by rada at 1:37 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Nope. Very poor business practice, and I would not be surprised if it’s illegal in the UK.
posted by frumiousb at 1:38 PM on January 16, 2018

I worked for a company like this and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. If it seems like a scam or that they are just using people for cheap labor then they probably are. I wouldn't waste the time and money on them for this.
posted by dawkins_7 at 1:47 PM on January 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is bullshit and below minimum wage (assuming you're aged over 20 and doing a 37.5 hour week). I don't know the technicalities of if it's legal or not, but please report them to the HMRC here.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:17 PM on January 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

My daughter took a job with a company that paid applicants for a week of training and only hired them at the end of the week if they passed all the testing and the bosses liked them.

It ended up being a terrible company today work for.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:45 PM on January 16, 2018

It may be worth phoning up your contact at the company and making the point that the evaluation process works both ways, and right now they're making a pretty bad impression.

Also, they took two months to respond after an interview? Presumably after they worked through everyone on the list above you who was prepared to give them a week's work at £50 a day.

Unless this is a company you really, really want to work for, I'd walk away.
posted by Hogshead at 5:17 PM on January 16, 2018

And it isn't.
posted by flabdablet at 5:33 PM on January 16, 2018

I vote scam - either they permanently have a rotating cast of "trial" designers on less than minimum wage or they put out job interviews then bring you in for a trial when they've more work than their regular staff can handle but they can't afford contractors. Its been a couple of months since your interview and they mention multiple people coming in for a trial before you - there is no job here, you will do your trial week then never hear from them again.

I'm not sure who the appropriate body is but I feel like you should be reporting them to someone!
posted by missmagenta at 4:38 AM on January 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you not have a probation period in your contract? This allows either party to terminate the contract with only a week's notice for a short period of time - usually one month but could be anything if it's mutually agreed.

It's goal is to do exactly what a trial would do.
posted by mr_silver at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2018

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