Academic Internships: Employee Rights

Matthew Reymes-Cole

Matthew Reymes Cole

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15 Oct 2018

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As the new academic year begins, a new set of students will be looking for internships as part of their course.

An internship is a fantastic opportunity for both the employee and the employer, but if handled incorrectly, can have serious legal consequences.

What are an intern’s rights?

The right to pay is the most serious factor to consider when taking on an intern.

For most academic work placements, the intern will not be entitled to pay. Interns are not entitled to the national minimum wage if:

  • They're a student required to do an internship for less than one year as part of a course.
  • They're under compulsory school age.
  • They're only shadowing a worker.

If you take on an intern that doesn’t fit one of the above criteria, you are required to pay them the NMW and they will have access to some of the same employment rights as regular employees, including working hours rights.

If the intern actually fills the requirements of being an employee within the business, then they will be entitled to further rights, including maternity leave and rights against unfair dismissal.

Harassment and bullying

Interns, if unpaid, are particularly vulnerable, as they are not entitled to the basic rights given to employees. However, they are guaranteed some protection through the Equality Act 2010.

Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment for those on their premises.

This duty extends to non-employees, and therefore, interns. Mental-health, bullying, harassment, and employee wellbeing should be more than just a legal requirement, it is in your interest to make sure any interns are happy.

For the overall wellbeing of the intern, adopt a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy on bullying, and treat any harassment of the individual as severely as you would another employee.

Consequences

Although the legislation surrounding internships is particularly weak, it doesn’t mean they cannot bring an employment tribunal to you. Tribunals are costly and disruptive even if they are not won, and are worth avoiding at all costs.

You may lose some money defending a claim from an intern, but the more significant and long-lasting cost will be reputational damage.

If you treat an intern poorly, or expose them to unnecessary risk, the situation will reflect poorly on you as a business, and will deter any future interns looking to join your company.

Expert Support

For assistance with internships, or any other HR, pay & benefit, or health & afety issue, speak to a Croner expert on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Matthew Reymes-Cole

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