Many people have either been an intern or have hired an intern at some point in their careers and are most likely familiar with the rite of passage for graduates that involves working for free in your chosen industry for an indefinite amount of time.
There is however a growing movement against the tradition of unpaid internships on the basis that they can amount to ‘slave labour’ and be ‘elitist’. There is some merit in both criticisms and employers should tread carefully going forward.
It is often perceived that only those who benefit from their parents continued support are able to afford to effectively work for free. Companies should consider if they are happy for their clients to perhaps see them as elitist in these increasingly meritocratic times.
Also, young people who do secure highly sought after internships often do so through their parents’ network of contacts which can have a limiting factor. If companies wish to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce, it is argued that they should consider doing away with unpaid internships or at the very least make the selection process open and fair.
The Legal Position
An intern’s rights depend on their employment status. If an intern is classed as a worker, then they are normally due the minimum wage. Minimum wage in the UK is £7.05 per hour for those aged 21-24 and £7.50 per hour for those over 25. This is the absolute minimum that companies must pay to their employees. Government Guidelines suggest that employees should be paid a Living wage of £8.75 per hour outside of London and £10.20 per hour inside of London. Although the Living wage is not a statutory requirement it is receiving a lot of coverage and support in the media.
The question that employers must ask themselves when considering hiring an intern is whether that intern is in fact an employee. If the intern has fixed hours and contributes work ‘of value’ to the company, then that the intern may in fact be an employee and as such should be paid the minimum wage and be eligible for employment rights.
Students doing work experience or an internship for less than a year as part of further or higher education in the UK are not entitled to minimum wage.
If you need any further advice on Employment Law, please contact our Employment Team.
1st February 2018