The use of interns is getting political attention with it now clearly on the Government’s radar; Government Press Release. If you engage interns (or volunteers), there are some important aspects that you should consider.

Internships can be a very legitimate way for someone to secure meaningful work experience that could help them with their career choice and/or benefit them in securing a job. They also give you access to individuals whom you may ultimately employ (often without the need to recruit) and help encourage people to work in your trade/profession.

Internships are increasingly common, but many feel they are now being abused. The Government is calling for any unpaid internships of more than four weeks to be banned and, regardless on the length of the internship, interns may acquire employment protection.

There are two categories to consider; whether an intern is an employee or a worker.

Employees have all the rights of a worker, plus the right to claim unfair dismissal. However, in order to claim ordinary unfair dismissal, two years continuous service is required. Most internships will be for less than two continuous years, so this may not be of much concern to you. Obviously, if you engage an unpaid intern (or volunteer) for more than two years the duration is itself likely to be evidence that they are an employee.

Therefore, the main focus is whether the intern is a “worker”. Whether somebody is a worker often falls down to the following test; “…the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party…”

If the intern is providing the service personally and there is “mutuality of obligation” (i.e. duties flowing between you and the intern) then intern will most likely be a worker. Typical signs that there is “mutuality of obligation” are that:

  • the intern is engaged to work full-time/exclusively for you; and
  • you are controlling:
    • the hours they work;
    • what work they do;
    • how they do that work;
    • where they work;
    • who they work with etc.

If these are present then, in all likelihood, the intern will be a worker. The more that exist, the greater the risk that the intern is a worker.

If an intern is a worker they will be entitled to:

  1. Statutory rights, such as the right paid annual leave (but not the right to be paid a redundancy payment, nor to claim unfair dismissal – for this they need to be an employee);
  2. The right to receive the National Minimum Wage (NMW); and
  3.  The right not to suffer discrimination.

Of those, the one that may cause you most concern is the right to be paid the NMW. Often internships are unpaid, so you need to be very careful to ensure that the individual is not a worker so that you avoid any obligations under the NMW.

In addition, there is the obligation to give holiday, so if the intern does not have the benefit of holiday, that too can be claimed from you.

It is advisable to have an agreement in place with any interns, so they and you are clear on their/your rights and duties. While an agreement will seek to protect you, fundamentally, it will be how you treat/manage/supervise the interns that will determine their rights.

As you can see from the Government article (above), there is also concern that interns are generally awarded based on “who” somebody knows, not “what” they know. This means that young people from low-income backgrounds are being excluded; meaning employers are missing out on a wider pool of talent and certain individuals are missing out on career opportunities.

If you are concerned how your business uses or engages interns (or volunteers) then please contact us to discuss.