Unpaid trials

Sometimes a person is asked to do an unpaid trial when being evaluated for a vacant job. This skill demonstration is used to determine if the person is suitable for the job, and is sometimes called a work trial.

A work trial is okay when:

  • it involves no more than a demonstration of the person’s skills, where they are directly relevant to a vacant position
  • it's only for as long as needed to demonstrate the skills required for the job. This will be dependent on the nature and complexity of the work, but could range from an hour to one shift
  • the person is under direct supervision for the entire trial.

Any period beyond what is reasonably required to demonstrate the skills required for the job must be paid at the appropriate minimum rate of pay. If an employer wants to further assess a candidate's suitability, they could employ the person as a casual employee and/or for a probationary period and pay them accordingly for all hours worked.

Example: Lawful unpaid trial

Jack applies for a job as a trades assistant at a local panel beaters. As part of the applicant screening process, Jack is advised by the owner that on the day of the interview he'll need to show he knows his way around a car and a workshop, because it's a minimum requirement of the job. Jack agrees.

To do this, after the interview, Jack is asked to follow one of the tradesmen doing body repairs. The tradesman watches Jack to make sure he knows how to work safely and use the right tools. Jack shows he meets the minimum criteria for the role and the owner offers Jack the job.

Jack's brief trial was reasonable to demonstrate his skills and he does not need to be paid for the trial.

Example: Unpaid trial that should be paid

Jane saw an ad in the newspaper from a local restaurant seeking a full-time kitchen hand. The job did not require the applicant to have any specific skills. The duties for the position included scrubbing pots, cleaning the floors and taking the rubbish out to the bin.

When she applied for the job, Jane was told that she had to work a day unpaid so that the employer could check her suitability for the role. Jane agreed. 

At the end of the shift, the employer told Jane that she wasn't suitable for the job. Jane wasn't paid for any of the hours she worked.

Jane should have been paid for all hours worked. The trial was not a skill demonstration and Jane performed productive work for the benefit of the business.

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Page reference No: 1775