Internships in the United Kingdom are an emerging trend in the way that employers recruit graduates. It’s no doubt that if you’re a current student or recently graduated, the buzz word “internship” will have graced your vocabulary.
A recent survey by the High Fliers reported a worrying statistic: more than half the recruiters they surveyed warned that graduates with no previous work experience at all are unlikely to be successful during the selection process and have little or no chance of receiving a job offer on a graduate scheme.
Although the employers who were surveyed were not specifically events companies, there are certain industries that are hard to break into without practical, relevant, and professional work experience. Events is one of those industries.
Internships are a great way to gain the experience that employers are looking for and can be paid, unpaid, or expenses covered. Although any experience in a professional environment may be advantageous, this guide will give you some information on your rights as an intern and what to do when things go wrong.
A statement for you to consider as you read: Did you know that most unpaid internships are illegal?
Paid internships are naturally a first choice to start a career in events – who wouldn’t want to be paid for their work? Paid internships are generally un-contentious. Paid internships:
1. Are defined as any internship which pays the National Minimum Wage or more. No matter how inexperienced you are it is illegal for an employer to pay you a wage that is less than the age appropriate rate of National Minimum Wage and you should not accept internships paying lower than what you’re legally entitled to.
2. Can last any amount of time; from a couple of weeks to up to a year.
3. Are essentially entry-level positions.
4. Give you all the rights and responsibilities of any regular employee, including paid holidays and rights to be protected by health and safety regulations.
5. Are a great way to take on an entry level position with real responsibilities.
Because paid internships are entry level, most employers understand that this will be your first position, and will put training in place to ensure that you’re brought up to speed. If you’re expected to do beyond what you’re capable of, consider speaking with your employer to get the support you need.
Unpaid and Expenses Only Internships
Unpaid and expenses only internships can be a great way to gain valuable, relevant, and professional experience in the events industry. Unpaid and expenses only internships are dealt with under the same rules. The payment of out-of-pocket expenses does not negate the need for an employer to pay the National Minimum Wage where it is due.
There are certain situations where an employer can take on an intern on an unpaid or expenses only basis legally. These are:
1. Where you are undertaking work for a registered charity (these are called voluntary workers, and are specifically exempt by virtue of s.44 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998)
2. Where you are undertaking work as part of a higher education course (this means for placement years as part of your academic course, you have no right to the National Minimum Wage)
The first two exemptions are unambiguous – There is certainly no uncertainty in their application. However, the thing which causes some difficulty is the exemption for volunteers. A person can volunteer for any organization, whether it’s public, private, or third sector.
However, the term volunteer will have no legal effect on an intern’s right to pay where it is due. Volunteer right to pay is determined by the circumstances of the internship and whether or not a person could be considered a worker.
Determining Worker Status
Every worker in the United Kingdom is entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage (s.1).
A worker is defined under the National Minimum Wage Act (s.54(3)) as any person who holds a contract of employment or any other contract, whether express or implied, which makes the intern responsible for providing services personally to an employer.
The important thing for volunteers to consider is whether, all the circumstances considered, they could be held to be under a contract of employment. There are a few factors to consider when determining your right to payment. This list is not exhaustive:
1. What is the duration and basis of the internship? Unpaid and expenses only internships are not a long term arrangement – 1-2 months at the most, especially on full time hours.
2. Do you have set hours or set responsibilities? Unpaid interns are free to come and go as they please. You should not have set hours or responsibilities. If you do, you’re very likely to be entitled to be paid the National Minimum Wage.
3. What sort of activities are you involved in? The emphasis on an unpaid or expenses only internship should be YOU. Your purpose on an unpaid or expenses only internship should be to learn and take away as much knowledge, contacts and experience as you can. If you’re making a commercial contribution to your employer, or you’re replacing paid staff, you are very likely to be entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
4. Has the employer offered you a job at the end? Is there talk of a paid position at the end if you do well? Such arrangements could be considered contractual consideration. Any unpaid or expenses only work you do in pursuit of a paid position could form a contractual arrangement.
Ultimately, what you need to determine is: All circumstances considered, am I performing the role of a worker? If you feel the answer to that question is “Yes”, you may wish to seek further advice on whether or not you are entitled to the National Minimum Wage.
If you were performing a worker role, you will be entitled to complete back-pay, plus holiday pay.
Points to take away:
1. Events is a difficult industry to get into – internships are more important than ever in getting your dream position.
2. Paid internships are obviously the best kind of internship. They are relatively un-contentious and they allow you to take on real responsibility and perform a wide variety of functions. They are synonymous with short-term entry level positions.
3. Unpaid and expenses only internships are a bit more contentious.
4. Working for a registered charity or a work placement as part of a higher education course is relatively self-explanatory and un-contentious.
5. When taking on a volunteer position in a private or public organization, you have to consider: All circumstances considered, am I performing the role of a worker?
6. If you are replacing paid staff, providing a valuable benefit to the organization, not free to come and go as you please, or have real responsibilities, you’re likely to be a worker entitled to National Minimum Wage. Unpaid or expenses only volunteering is for your benefit, not the employers.
7. If you feel like you have undertaken a position where you have performed a worker role, you should seek further advice in order to claim back-pay that you’re entitled to.
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