If I take an unpaid internship am I likely to be exploited in the context of Employment Law?

Unpaid Internships

Currently considering the problems with employment experienced in the United Kingdom has led to many people aged between 16 and 24 opting to work under an unpaid internship.

What will an unpaid internship consist of?

An unpaid internship is likely to consist of an individual working with a specific company for a certain period of time without receiving remuneration. The purpose of the internship will be to give that individual a flavor of the industry which they wish to work in rather than requiring them to undertake the duties that other employees would be expected to do. For example they may meet with certain people involved in the company such as directors to chat and be provided with information about the industry – something which a new employee probably would not get the opportunity to do.

What industries commonly use unpaid internships?

The media industry will commonly use unpaid internships to enable certain individuals to learn certain aspects about the industry and also as a way of testing what skills the brightest individuals with the potential to work in that field posses. Certain business and legal firms will also use unpaid internships to give certain individuals experience of what it is like to work in the industry – specifically individuals who wish to work in the legal industry can apply to do vacation schemes while they are studying.

What are the benefits of undertaking an unpaid internship?

If an individual wishes to work in a specific field which is extremely demanding and difficult to get a starting berth in it is often a good idea for them to undertake an internship to not only provide them with some form of experience but also to set them apart from all other applicants wishing to gain a place in the industry.

Is there a legal requirement to pay interns?

Currently under the laws of England and Wales concerned with the employment context there is no requirement that interns must be paid.

Is this system open to abuse?

This system is potentially open to abuse as a company could decide to save money by employing various interns instead of employing people at the lower end of the company. It could then be decided that the interns would undertake the tasks that would normally be left for the employees of the company.

Is it illegal for a company to do this?

It would be considered to be illegal for a company to do this as it is a clear requirement under employment law if an employee is contributing to the workplace and they are doing work for the business then that person must be paid the national minimum wage.

Would companies face legal action if they are found to do this?

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has stated that this is a clear exploitation of young workers and that if anyone has any concerns they should report them as soon as possible.

This clearly opens up the possibility of legal action being taken against companies who do this.

What should I do if I find myself in this position?

If you are undertaking an unpaid internship and you feel you are being exploited in this manner then the best course of action would be to get in contact with the BIS. This may, however, be viewed as a difficult position as many who undertake an internship in this manner will be doing so to get a foot in the door and may not wish to harm their chances of getting a job at some point by doing this.