Do I Need to Pay My Interns and Work Experience Staff?

Ben McCarthy

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27 Jun 2019

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Interns. They’re eager, hard-working, and have flexibility over the summer to take on your part-time work. But be careful. Getting your recruitment wrong can expose you to legal risks, especially if you take on staff under the age of 18. Here’s how to avoid breaking the law this summer.  

Rules to remember this summer

Hiring unpaid interns could be illegal

Unpaid internships are common, especially for young people. Common, but potentially illegal if not managed properly.

And in many cases, it doesn’t matter if your intern agrees to work for free or not. Because they could still claim unpaid earnings later.

This happened to Sony in 2013 when a former intern threatened to take the company to a tribunal. In the end, the case never made it to court—Sony settled and forked out £4,600 in back payments.

That said, there are situations where unpaid internships are allowed…  

Sometimes you don’t need to pay interns

Many university courses require students to take on relevant work experience during the summer months. If a student works for you as part of their higher education courses, then you don’t have to pay them.

Some students need to take on longer placements, such as sandwich years between their studies. Again, where the placement is for less than a year, there is no need to pay them. But whether they’ll have the motivation to work an entire year for no money is another matter…

You also don’t need to pay volunteers or those doing work experience. You may still cover limited expenses, such as travel costs or lunch, but there’s no legal need to do so.

Volunteers don’t have a contract with you and they’re free to come and go as they please. Although obviously, you decide how long they volunteer for.

For most other people, you’ll probably have to pay a regular wage. But not everyone is entitled to the same hourly rate…

For everyone else: pay the right wage

You need to pay all workers aged 25 and over the National Living Wage. But the rules around hiring younger workers are slightly different.  

The National Minimum Wage varies depending on age. As of April 2019, the rates of pay are:

  • 25 and over = £8.21 per hour
  • 21 to 24 = £7.70 per hour
  • 18 to 20 = £6.15 per hour
  • Above compulsory school age but younger than 18 = £4.35 per hour

You can also hire young workers of compulsory school age who are 14 years and older, but they don’t have the right to earn the National Minimum Wage. Some local authorities also allow 13-year-olds to take on part-time jobs, but it depends on what part of the country they live and work in.

Working hours vary by age

There are also restrictions on how many hours young people can work in a week.

People above the compulsory school age but younger than 18 are classed as young workers and can work up to 40 hours a week, limited to eight hours a day.

Children at compulsory school age can’t work during school hours, and they can’t work for more than two hours on school days. They can do a maximum of 12 hours a week during term time, and are limited to two hours on any Sunday.  

15 and 16-year-olds can only work for a maximum of eight hours on non-school days. 14-year-olds can work for no more than five hours. And no child can work before 7 am or after 7 pm on any day.

Outside of term time, children at the compulsory school age can work for a maximum of 35 hours a week, with the exception of 14-year-olds who can only work 25 hours a week.

The laws around hiring children are complicated (for good reason) and there are many more rules to consider. So, if any school age children want to work for you this summer, I’d recommend getting advice from Croner’s employment law team on 01455 858 132.

Get the best from your summer staff

All your staff classed as workers should have written contracts that lay out the terms and conditions of their work. If you’re taking on unpaid students, their university or college should provide you an outline of their internship.

After that, you need teach your summer worker the technical skills to do their job, and the behaviour and conduct you expect of them in the office. Explain your workplace policies to all new starters, whether you pay them or not.

And, as with any new hire, there’s always a risk that things might not work out. With volunteers, if you’re not happy with their conduct or behaviour, just ask them to leave. If your new staff are classed as employees, then make sure your contracts lay out notice and formal review periods.  

It’s best practice to include probation periods in all employee contracts, even for short-term work. Then if the worst happens, you have the flexibility to dismiss individuals for misconduct or poor performance. 

Get expert advice to hire summer staff

Hiring any new staff is complicated. So whether you’re taking on employees, interns, young workers or seasoned temps, get legal advice from our HR professionals.

Speak to an expert today and find out how to write watertight contracts, hire the best summer staff, and protect your business. Call 01455 858 132 or request a callback here.

About the Author

Ben McCarthy works as a content writer for Croner producing commentary and guidance on employment law and key HR developments. Coming from an extensive legal background, Ben regularly constructs key training materials for clients and advisers, and provides daily contributions to national publications.

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