The issue of employment terms and conditions for interns has been quite a controversial one in recent months with the media picking up on a number of cases where many (in particular young people) have been working unpaid for extended amounts of time.
In their defence, organisations have often stated that having an internship is a great opportunity to gain experience working in the industry of the interns choice, the industries are generally difficult to get into which is why experience is crucial. However, there are many employers that are either unaware or simply choose to ignore the rules and regulations when it comes to unpaid workers which fall into the following categories: work experience, volunteers and internships.
There is a very fine line between a work experience placement and actual employment and to save consulting employment solicitors later down the line, it is really vital that employers fully understand the difference if they are going to take on interns in their business. People ‘working’ in the UK are entitled to certain benefits as a worker – pay, holiday etc. and it is this definition of ‘working’ is how employers need to be careful when looking for people to be interns in their business. Even if the job title says ‘unpaid’ or ‘work experience’ if an intern is carrying out tasks that are requisite of an employee they are entitled to the same rights. To clarify this point, if all of the points below apply to your intern, they are entitled to minimum wage:
1. There is a written or verbal contract between the intern and the employee stating the workers obligations to the business
2. There is some form of monetary or benefit in kind payment in place – this can include the promise or future work.
3. The intern must turn up for at a certain time and has to complete all the work given to them
If an intern feels they fall into three categories they can apply to an employment tribunal to look at their case to see whether they should in fact be entitled to employee’s rights. A tribunal will look to see whether there were any sanctions in place if the intern ‘failed’ at their duties – this is usually when they are entitled to those rights.
Another important point is that students who have to complete a work experience placement as part of their qualification or degree are not entitled to the National Minimum Wage. Also, interns can be paid expenses with an agreement from the employee without being classified as a worker.
If you are unsure or feel there is a problem within your organisation you can either contact your employment law solicitors or alternatively visit the DirectGov and Business Link websites who have a great deal of information surrounding the matter.