With the long summer break coming up for sixth form and university students, and for those who have recently graduated, the competitive nature of the job market will mean many are looking for internships that will give them a competitive edge in the job market. Many see internships as a great way for young people to gain vital work experience and a greater of understanding of a sector. Many undertake internships and other unpaid work experience with a view to later being taken on in full time employment. UK employment lawyers have been alarmed by recent reports suggesting that some organisations have been taking advantage of internships – with claims of exploitation and even ‘tied servitude’. employment lawyers in London and across the UK are keen to bust some of the myths that surround internships, particularly as far as legal aspects of employment are concerned, and how they relate to this kind of work placement.
Myth#1: An Internship is just like work experience
Over the years, the terms ‘work experience’ and ‘internship’ have come to mean rather different things. Work experience tends to be used in the context of school students. A week, perhaps a fortnight, after GCSEs going in to the workplace, perhaps learning about the work of the organisation and shadowing different members of staff, ‘work experience’ doesn’t carry as much weight behind it as the term ‘internship’. An internship carries with it an expectation that the individual who is accepted as an intern will be doing real work, perhaps receiving training, as well as a real indepth insight into the business and industry concerned. Internships are most commonly used in connection with those at more advanced levels of education – university students or graduates, and even those who are looking to retrain in a new role or to move into a different sector.
Many internships are offered on an ‘unpaid’ basis. The legal reality is that if the intern is carrying out real work for you, they should be paid. There’s a difference if the intern is really just having a period of ‘work experience’ which consists of ‘shadowing and just seeing how things are done and getting a feel for the world of work. However, if the intern is ‘working’ for you, they should be treated as a worker. As the latest cases relating to the gig economy – most recently the decision of the Supreme Court in the Pimlico Plumbers case – have demonstrated, workers have employment rights – and these need to be respected, even if the label the person concerned has is ‘intern’.
Myth#3: I don’t need to pay my intern
Given the above, it flows that an intern who is in fact a worker will, at the very least, be entitled to the National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage depending on how old the intern is. The National Minimum Wage applies to those of school leaving age up to the age of 24; the National Living Wage applies from the age of 25. Of course it follows that if you offer more than the statutory minimum level of pay for your internships, you will attract a better calibre of candidate applying which in turn will benefit your business.
Myth#4: My intern won’t be entitled to holiday
Workers are entitled to statutory minimum holiday and holiday pay. How much this amounts to will depend on the length of the internship – holiday is calculated on a pro rata basis. If your intern is with you for 6 weeks, they will be entitled to a pro rata level of holiday.
Myth#5: All internships are the same
Different rules – or perhaps it is better to say there are exceptions to the rules – in some types of ‘internship’. Where the internship is part of a further or higher education course and is for less than a year, the interns isn’t entitled to be paid. It’s also possible for interns to volunteer (and therefore not be paid) if the internship is with a charity or voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or a statutory body.
Of course, depending on how the internship is structured, the intern may be an employee and entitled to the highest levels of employment rights and protections that the law affords. This may not be your intention as an employing organisation, but if the relationship your organisation has with the intern reflects that of employer/employee, then the intern will have employment rights. It is not possible to exclude this conclusion in writing – if there is any dispute over the correct status of the intern, the reality of the relationship will prevail over the contents of any contract or agreement.
On the other hand, internships offer a valuable opportunity for employers to assess potential new employees over the course of a few weeks or months, rather than simply taking someone on following a standard recruitment process. It’s worth taking advice from a London employment law solicitor to make sure you get it right and make the most of an internship programme, while at the same time offering valuable experience for your interns.
OTS Solicitors provide advice for business on employment contracts in London and on employment law for employees. If you have any questions about internships, either because you are running an intern scheme, or because you are an intern and are concerned about how you are being treated, book an appointment today by calling 0203 959 9123