As the summer holidays arrive for students up and down the country, the subject of work placements and internships are likely to come up for a lot of businesses. Emails and phone calls will fill your in-tray, as young people aim to soak up valuable on the job experience to set them apart from the rest. But as a business, what are your rights when it comes to taking on an intern?

Employment status

While some employers take the approach that interns are free labour, that entirely depends on the status of the employee and how clearly that is communicated. There are three types of employment status:

According to, an intern is classed as a ‘worker’ if:

  • they have a contract or other arrangement to do work or services personally for a reward (your contract doesn’t have to be written)
  • their reward is for money or a benefit in kind, for example, the promise of a contract or future work
  • they only have a limited right to send someone else to do the work (subcontract)
  • they have to turn up for work even if they don’t want to
  • their employer has to have work for them to do as long as the contract or arrangement lasts
  • they aren’t doing the work as part of their own limited company in an arrangement where the ‘employer’ is actually a customer or client

If they are classed as a worker they are entitled certain employee rights, including:

  • getting the National Minimum Wage
  • protection against unlawful deductions from wages
  • the statutory minimum level of paid holiday
  • the statutory minimum length of rest breaks
  • to not work more than 48 hours on average per week or to opt out of this right if they choose
  • protection against unlawful discrimination
  • protection for ‘whistleblowing’ – reporting wrongdoing in the workplace
  • to not be treated less favourably if they work part-time

When is an intern not required to receive the national minimum wage?

If an intern is a student required to do an internship as part of a UK based further or higher education course or they are of compulsory school age, they aren’t entitled to the minimum wage.

If the worker is there in a voluntary capacity, i.e. they are working for a charity, voluntary organisation, associated fundraising body or a statutory body, or they don’t get paid, except for limited benefits (reasonable travel or lunch expenses) they will not be entitled to the minimum wage. This also applies to those interns who shadow an employee and perform no work themselves.

Don’t take your word for it

Simply stating that you will not be paying an intern is not enough if during their time with your business they contribute to any action that classes them as a worker. If you’re unsure about whether an intern is entitled to receive the national minimum wage please contact us today for more information.