Employment law support for pre-reg and newly-qualified

This section explains how we can help if things go wrong at work, and what you need to know about your contractual obligations


Contract query service

If you’ve been offered a pre-registration placement and have a query about your new contract, or you’re seeking advice on an existing one, our employment law advice team can help. We can offer a bespoke contract query service to assist you with your pre-registration employment questions.

Who’s the service for?

  • Optometry students who’ve been offered a pre-registration job and have some questions about their employment contract, sponsorship agreement or about training fees before they start 
  • Pre-registration optometrists who have queries about their current contract of employment, or who may be thinking of leaving  their job and want to understand the implications of leaving
  • Newly qualified optometrists who want to leave the practice they trained at and want to understand the consequences, particularly with respect to notice obligations and any repayment of training fees 

The benefits of seeking AOP advice

  • Gives you a clearer understanding of the contents of your employment contract, including any fees you may be required to pay to your employer
  • Advises you if you wish to negotiate amendments to any contract you have been offered
  • Helps you to decide whether to accept a job and whether to sign your contract
  • Assists with any contract related queries or questions during your employment
  • Advises on any rights or obligations if you decide to leave
  • Our advice is entirely independent and will take in to account your own individual circumstances

How we will help you 

We can offer advice by email or a telephone consultation, dealing with any questions or concerns that you may have about the contents of your contract of employment. To ensure our advice is relevant to you, we’ll ask you to send a copy of your employment contract before the consultation.
Contact the AOP legal team at [email protected] and we’ll schedule an appointment with a member of the team. 

We have answered some common questions on the agreement that underpins a pre-registration placement

If you have concerns about your employer

We recognise that it can be hard to know how best to raise concerns at work and you may be fearful of doing this out of concern that it may impact on your future career. We can advise, guide and assist you towards finding the best solution.

As well as having contractual obligations, your employer also has duties under employment law. We encourage you to come to us if you have any employment related concerns. For example:

  • If you feel that you are not being adequately supported by your supervisor
  • If you are being bullied or harassed or treated unfairly
  • If you are having problems coping with the pressures or volume of work, including feelings of anxiety and stress
  • If you believe that your employer is not paying you correctly or not giving you as much time off as you are entitled to
  • If you are worried about the consequences if you do not qualify by the end of your contract

As a general rule, we encourage you to raise any concerns you have with your supervisor, informally in the first instance. If this does not resolve your issues or you do not feel able to do this (for example if you are feeling inadequately supported by your supervisor or you are feeling bullied or harassed) we can discuss with you how best to raise your concerns.

If your employer expresses concerns about you

Other things can go wrong too. These can include your employer having worries about your performance of your work, or compliance with your contractual obligations, or your conduct. Whether you feel that these concerns are justified or not it is important that you contact us as soon as these issues arise, so that we can give you the best guidance and support, tailored to your particular circumstances.

If you'd like advice about changing jobs

You may simply want our advice because you are not happy where you are. This could either be part way through your period of training or after you have qualified where you want to leave and take up a permanent optometrist role with another employer. We can advise you about your obligations to repay your training fees. This will involve us looking at the terms of your employment contract and sponsorship agreement/offer letter. We will also ask you to obtain from your employer a full breakdown of the training fees that they say you owe.

Tie in fees

As a pre-registration optometrist you will have signed a fixed term contract and under the terms of that contract your employer will have agreed to pay for your training.

These training costs will become repayable by you if certain events occur within a specified time frame. These terms will be set out either in an offer letter or sponsorship agreement that you sign.

In some cases a dispute can arise about what is actually owed in the event that the training costs need to be repaid. If this happens to you we can, where appropriate, assist you in preparing a letter to your employer. In several cases we have been successful in helping our members to negotiate a reduction in what they owe, either because the amounts claimed have been unreasonable (as they do not accurately reflect the actual costs incurred by the employer) or they are not pre-registration costs that the agreement entitles the employer to claim repayment for.

Once the correct amount owing is established, we may be able to help you to agree a repayment plan with your employer to reduce the financial impact on you.

Common pre-reg employment contract FAQs

1. Is there anything I should look out for when signing my pre-reg employment contract?

Generally, it is important to read the entire contract carefully and check that the pay, benefits, hours of work, location and other key provisions are consistent with what was promised in the interview, verbal job offer or other discussions. You should also ensure you understand the conditions that would trigger an obligation to repay training fees, which can include an obligation to stay for a specified time following qualification. In addition, if your contract refers to separate documents such as policies or a sponsorship agreement, make sure you check these documents as well. If you are unsure of the implications of any the obligations in the contract or anything is unclear, it is important to take advice and seek clarification as needed before you sign the contract.

2. I did not sign my employment contract when I started my pre-reg, I just continued to work. Does that mean I am not bound by the terms of the contract?

No. Even if you do not sign your employment contract, if you received the contract and then continued to work for your employer, it is likely that you have accepted the terms of the contract. In the event that your employer issues you with a new contract or a letter with new terms and you are not happy with the proposed changes, it is important to obtain legal advice as soon as possible.

3. Will I actually be required to repay training fees if I am not offered a job after I qualify?

In many cases, contracts and sponsorship agreements provide that if your contract ends for any reason before a certain date (this can include a period of time after you qualify), you will be required to repay all or some of the training costs in relation to your training. In most cases, sponsorship agreements are legally binding contracts and enforceable, and employers generally expect payment to be made. It is particularly important, therefore, to check your obligations to pay training fees before you sign any contract. See the tie in fees advice above.

4. Can I leave my pre-reg contract before I have even started?

Yes, you can leave your pre-reg before you have started. However, you will need to give the correct amount of notice as per your contract.

5. I am not being given enough supervision/testing time. What can I do?

Pre-reg students should be given access to a consulting room for testing sight for at least 20 hours a week, this is an average over the pre-reg year. If you do not feel that you are being given appropriate supervision or feel that you are being put under pressure, we recommend that you speak to your supervisor or manager about your concerns. If this does not resolve the matter, it may be necessary to write formally to your employer and, if you would like any advice on this, do contact the employment team.

6. I am tied into my contract for a period of time after I qualify. Can I leave before then?

If you accept and start a qualified optometrist role with the company you completed your pre-reg with, you may be subject to a tie-in period. You can resign at any point, giving the correct notice as per your contract. However, you should bear in mind that you may be liable to repay training fees as per your contract and sponsorship agreement. Contact the employment team if you require more information. See the tie in fees advice above.

7. I have heard of some optometrists who have been forced to pay higher training fees than others. Is there a law setting out how much a practice can charge for training fees?

Unfortunately, not. The only legal requirement in this area is that an employer can recover training costs in accordance with the contract. It is therefore important that you review the employment contract and any accompanying sponsorship agreement carefully. If you do leave within the tie in period, we may be able to help you to push back on some of the amounts owing and/or help you to negotiate a reduction.

8. Can another employer repay the fees that I am tied into paying under my contract?

If you are offered a job with a new employer, they may offer to pay the tie in fees on your behalf. Some employers are happy to agree to this and to liaise with the new employer. Other employers want the employee to remain responsible for the repayment and are not prepared to correspond directly with the new employer about it. Please contact the employment team if you require advice on this.