Worker, volunteer or intern?

The law is clear on what constitutes a worker, and what rights you then have, even if using terms such as volunteer, placement and traineeship makes matters appear complicated.

National minimum wage

Interns must be paid the National Minimum Wage if they are classified as “workers” (although there is an exception for students who are doing work experience as part of their course). The factors below indicate that it is likely that you fall into the “worker” category:

  • You have an obligation to come into work and are not free to come and go as you please and end the internship without notice;
  • ·You are regularly doing work of genuine value to the employer, rather than job shadowing or doing practical tasks under supervision.

Note that the requirement to be paid the minimum wage if you are a worker stands regardless of whether the internship is advertised as being remunerated or not.  In 2008, an Employment Tribunal ruled that a former intern at a film company must be back-paid the minimum wage to cover the duration of her internship, even though she had agreed to work for free.

What if I am not a worker?

If you are not a worker, for example if you are job shadowing, you have relatively few employment law rights. This is because the internship is primarily for your benefit rather than that of the employer, and you can walk away from it at any time.

The employer has responsibility for your health and safety in the workplace and must take reasonable steps to protect you from risks (eg. by providing protective equipment when dealing with hazardous chemicals and explaining the correct way to lift heavy objects). They must also comply with the Data Protection Act 1998 and not use your personal information for any unsuitable purposes.

This article was provided by Contact Law.


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