There is no legislation governing the employment of interns and how they should be treated in terms of employment law, therefore, it depends on what their ‘employment status’ is i.e. whether they are classed as a “worker” or “employee”. The tests used to determine this are the same tests applied to all people who engage in work. The other alternative is whether they are merely shadowing your staff, and not actually providing any work for you.
Determining their status is vital to answering the most frequently asked question regarding interns - whether they need to be paid or not. If the intern falls within the worker or employee category, then they need to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage. If they are just shadowing your staff to enable them to see how the work is done, but are not actually doing any of the work themselves, then they do not need to be paid. In addition, if they are on a placement, which is a compulsory part of their higher education course, to last less than 12 months, then they are not entitled to the minimum wage. If it is determined that the intern is an employee, then they will be entitled to employment rights in the same way as ‘normal’ employees, including unfair dismissal protection.
There are of course wider aspects to consider regarding interns, for example, considering the benefit the employer expects to receive from providing the internship and the skills and insight the intern will gain. Beginning from the initial recruitment stage, interns should be treated in the same equal and professional manner as regular employees.
If they are to be like employees, interns should have the same access to disciplinary and grievance procedures. This is to ensure that the employer complies with best practice regarding treatment of interns, and the equality and diversity legislation. Furthermore, each intern should have a company induction soon after they start, which should clarify the structure, objective and values of the organisation. They should have the appropriate level of supervision and mentoring during the full course of their internship. Employers should hold regular performance and learning objectives reviews, giving feedback to the intern and reflect on the quality of the internship they have offered, to ensure that the experience has benefited all parties involved.
For further clarification on this issue, please call our Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.