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Volunteers, work experience and internships

Key points

  • Volunteers do not have a contract of employment, however, it is good to have a written volunteering agreement.
  • Interns who undertake regular paid work for an employer and have a contract of employment should receive at least the National Minimum Wage.
  • People for whom the National Minimum Wage does not apply include: students doing work experience as a UK based education course, young people of compulsory school age, volunteer doing voluntary work.

Many employers offer internships, work experience placements or take on people as volunteers, and often assume these people have no employment rights. This is not always the case and can depend on the type of contract or work they carry out as it may mean they have worker or employee status.

Work experience generally is someone who spends a limited time with an employer to learn directly about work and the working environment, although some tasks may be performed it is more an opportunity to watch and learn, and often aimed at students of compulsory school age.

Interns are usually graduates or undergraduates who go through a selection process in a more formal structured programme. Students are often required to do internships as part of further or higher education course. An intern may have employment rights but this will depend on the employment status.

Volunteers are those who carry out unpaid work for a charity, voluntary organisation or a fundraising body. Volunteers should have access to appropriate training and development, and usually will have a role description rather than a job description.

Employment status and the national minimum wage

Work experience students are often of compulsory school age and would not be entitled to the national minimum wage or have employment rights as a worker. Interns, however, may be entitled to the national minimum wage as they can count as an employee or worker if they do regular work for an employer or are promised a contract for future work. Students who are required to do an internship for less than one year as part of a further or higher education course will not normally be entitled to the national minimum wage.

Volunteers are not entitled to the national minimum wage as they don't get paid other than travel or lunch expenses and therefore will not be classed as a worker. Volunteers do not have a contract of employment but often have a volunteering agreement.

Employing people who volunteer

Employer-supported volunteering is a programme in which employers will assist their employees in volunteering, whether during work hours or in their own time. Employers should have a written policy which should aim to meet the needs of both the company and volunteer.