Internships within a company are a great way to get your foot in the door and potentially work towards a career in that sector . However, it is crucial to be informed; often internships can be unpaid with no offer of paid jobs at the end. Read our following advice.
The differences between paid and unpaid internships
- These should be for no longer than four weeks.
- Expect the employer to provide training, dedicated supervision, flexible hours and to cover travel expenses.
- This is an opportunity to gain experience and choose the duties you are happy to undertake.
- You should not feel pressured to undertake any duties you feel unhappy about.
- If you are asked to commit to a placement of more than four weeks, or find that the employer requires you to work specified hours or requires you to undertake specific duties, you can expect the employer to pay at least the national minimum wage of £6.08 per hour for workers over 21 and £4.98 for 18 to 20-year-olds.
- Be clear as to what you expect from an internship. Don’t just complete an internship to add it to your CV.
- Don’t be afraid to question a company.
- Be aware of the number of days off you can have, from the start of your placement.
- Be aware of being unfairly used. It had been thought that under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 interns were exempt from payment as they were classed as volunteers. However, recent employment tribunals have ruled that if someone qualifies as a worker then they should legally be paid the national minimum wage.
Are you unfairly exempt from payment but think you qualify as a worker?
An intern can be a worker if the arrangements go beyond simple work shadowing and encompass actual personal work for someone else. It is this test of whether the arrangements amount to “real work” that is of value to the employer that will determine the situation. This is regardless of whatever the internship is called, and whether there is a specific written contract of employment in place. Workers are not able to “waive” their wages, even if they respond to adverts on an expenses only basis. The statutory right to be paid a minimum wage (which is £6.08 from 1st October 2011) and receive holiday pay would override this.
There are some exceptions to the right to be paid. If you “volunteer”, then you do not have to perform work or provide services and therefore you are not covered by the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 regardless of what industry you are in. If you are a “voluntary worker” specifically working for charity, voluntary organisation or fund raising body, then you can work without profit for such good causes. This is recognised in the National Minimum Wage Act. Also, if you are a student on work experience, an employer is not obliged to pay you.