Internships are a form of work experience. Some students on degree course carry out internships as a compulsory part of their graduate studies. For others it is a voluntary option and internships are not always restricted to students. Internships can run for differing lengths of time, full or part time, and normally run for between one week and a year. If the company is providing a paid internship then this is most commonly set at the minimum wage. Where an internship is unpaid many companies will offer to meet reasonable costs and expenses although some will pay nothing at all. Students take on internships in order to gain practical experience in business which can often be the only way they can get employment on completion of their studies with many firms looking for experience when they are recruiting.
As an employer, you need to make sure that any work is carried out in accordance with your legal obligations to offer a healthy and safe work environment. Make sure that all workers, even those who are unpaid, get all the appropriate breaks from work. The purpose of the internship is to prepare the intern for the world of work so it helps to make sure that their time with you is structured and representative of what they can expect when they properly enter the labour market.
The Government is encouraging employers to pay a wage that recognises the intern’s value to the company and also the amount of training and support offered by the employer in return. If the intern meets the definition of a worker then they will normally be entitled to at least the minimum wage. There is no general exemption for interns under the minimum wage rules. Their employment status is determined by how the working arrangements operate in practice, not just what the stated intention was, so companies need to look at this very carefully before offering an unpaid internship.
When an individual enters into a contract or agreement to work for experience then they are likely to meet the definition of a worker unless they are a genuine volunteer or meet the exemption criteria. There is a specific exemption for workers who are students undertaking work experience lasting up to one year as part of a UK further or higher education course. If this exemption does not apply then they are entitled to be paid at least the national minimum wage even if they are studying at a non UK educational establishment, doing work which is not a specific requirement of their course or doing work which is a requirement of their course but which lasts longer than one year.
Thinking of hiring intern workers, yet still unsure of the correct procedures? Call our 24 Hour Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.