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Spotting the difference between interns and workers

The theory behind internships is that they are win-win situations. By opening their doors to interns, organisations can attempt to impress future candidates and develop their talent pool, while giving the next generation the benefit of real-world experience. And for candidates the benefits are clear: an enhanced CV and improved career prospects.

In practice, the practice of using interns is increasingly in the news, with perceptions that some companies have exploited interns as 'free labour' during a recession. Companies are being named and investigated, and stories from disillusioned interns are common. It's vital to understand the differences between interns and workers to ensure that both parties have a positive experience and companies avoid unintended obligations as well as adverse publicity.

If an intern is only observing or shadowing employees of the organisation and does not undertake any work personally it could be that the individual is a not a worker and will not be entitled to the national minimum wage. However an intern may be entitled to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage if they fall within the definition of 'worker'.

If an internship is provided to a student for less than one year as part of a course, then the student is not entitled to the minimum wage. Voluntary workers may be exempt from the minimum wage entitlement if they work for a charity, voluntary organisation, fund raising body or a statutory body.

Acas provides a range of courses for employers on Employing people, as well as further information on entitlements to the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions area for more information.

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