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Internships: Know your obligations as an employer

If you're considering taking on interns this year, it's wise to check your legal obligations towards them, such as whether or not you need to be paying them the national minimum wage (NMW).

Internships can be a useful way of giving organisations access to pools of talent while providing valuable opportunities for work experience and familiarisation with a particular industry. However, some employers are still uncertain about the employment status of interns and whether or not an internship qualifies as paid employment. This will largely depend on the nature of the intern's duties and whether they actually constitute 'work'.

As a general rule of thumb, an intern is entitled to the NMW if they:

  • are above compulsory school age
  • are not undertaking the internship as part of a UK-based course of education
  • are doing actual work as opposed to simply 'shadowing' employees
  • have a contractual relationship with their employer.

An intern may also qualify for the NMW if their placement could lead to an offer of permanent or paid work.

If an intern qualifies as a 'worker', then they are also entitled to a pro rata holiday entitlement, as well as protection from discrimination, limitations on working hours and statutory rest periods. Employers also have a duty to ensure that interns are legally entitled to work in the UK.

Another area worth careful consideration is how and where internships are advertised. Advertising positions purely in universities and colleges, or specifying that applicants need to be recent graduates or under a certain age, could be deemed discriminatory against older candidates.

Acas provides training courses for employers in all aspects of employing people and guidance on the national minimum wage.

Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

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