Acas uses cookies to ensure we give you the best experience and to make the site simpler. Find out more about cookies.

Website URL :

Volunteers, work experience and internships

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.

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.


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 courses. An internship can last a few weeks, for example over the summer holidays, to a year, but this will depend on the employer.

The benefits of an internship can include:

  • increasing a student's skills and knowledge
  • enabling someone to gain some knowledge into a particular job or industry
  • gaining knowledge of working.

An intern may have employment rights but this will depend on the employment status. Normally interns should be paid at least the National Minimum (or Living) Wage if they are carrying out the role as a worker, however, there are some exemptions:

  • voluntary workers, working for a charity, voluntary organisation etc.
  • a sandwich placement that is part of a higher education course
  • if a student is carrying out work shadowing.

An intern can also be classed as a worker if they are promised a contract for future work. If classed as a worker interns will be entitled to certain employment rights which include:

  • the National Minimum (or Living) Wage
  • paid holidays
  • protection against unlawful discrimination
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • the right not to be treated less favourably for working part-time.

Work experience

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.

As work experience students are often of compulsory school age they would not be entitled to the National Minimum Wage or have employment rights as a worker.

Work shadowing

Work shadowing gives students the opportunity to observe someone in their day-to-day job. Shadowing normally lasts for a few days, but sometimes can extend to a couple of weeks. Students will gain an understanding of the workplace and the job role that they are considering for their future career. Certain jobs will not be suitable for job shadowing due to the nature of the work and issues around health, safety and confidentiality.


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

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.