Workplace rights: Intern Iniquity

Are unpaid internships against the law?

by Michael Burd and James Davies
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Pressure groups such as Interns Anonymous think so, while the Graduate Fog website even names and shames 'cheapskate employers' offering non-salaried placements.

'Intern' is not a legal term, it just refers to someone working on a temporary basis to get experience - sometimes paid, often not. But if they qualify as a 'worker' under employment legislation, they are entitled to the national minimum wage (£6.08 an hour for over-21s). Companies cannot contract out of paying this, even if an intern has agreed to work on an expenses-only basis. Essentially, an intern is a worker if there is a contractual agreement to provide work or services personally. That excludes informal, short-term arrangements with no intention to create legal relations, such as mere work-shadowing. But most interns do 'proper' work with an expectation that they will attend for fixed hours over a significant period of time. Successful minimum wage claims have already been brought by some interns and, with increased media scrutiny of this issue, enforcement authorities may start to crack down more aggressively on unlawful unpaid arrangements.

- Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors, email: employment@lewissilkin.com.

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