An internship is a fabulous way to get a flavour for a job, as well as demonstrating your motivation and experience to potential employers. In fact, it is almost impossible to break into some careers without having done an internship.
The vast majority of employers provide good working conditions for interns. After all, it is in their interests for promising interns to aspire to work for them permanently.
Nonetheless, as an intern it is a good idea to have an understanding of your rights.
Are you a “worker”?
To know what your rights are you first have to work out the legal classification of your internship. Warning – this gets slightly technical!
Most internships are based on observation and job shadowing. You might do some practical tasks, but this is generally under supervision and so you can experience the job. In this case you are not legally classed as a “worker”.
But sometimes an intern starts doing tasks on a regular basis that are of actual value to the employer. Their level of responsibility and supervision resembles that of a permanent employee. Such interns might be considered “workers”.
If you are a “worker”
You have a number of rights, notably:
- You must be paid the minimum wage under the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 (unless you are a student doing work experience as part of your course). This is the case even if you agree not to be paid!
- The Working Time Regulations 1999 set restrictions on your working hours and require the employer to give you a minimum amount of rest breaks.
- Under the Equality Act 2010 it is unlawful for the employer to discriminate against you because of certain factors like your race, gender, sexuality, religion or nationality.
If you are not “a worker”
If, like the majority of interns, you are not classified as a worker, you still have some employment law rights.
You are entitled to the same level of workplace health and safety protection as a paid employee. This means that the employer must minimise health and safety risks, brief you on any risks and ensure you are given suitable training to avoid accidents and injuries.
The employer is obliged under the Data Protection Act to make sure any data they hold on you is secure, not keep it for longer than necessary or use it for any inappropriate purposes.
Protecting your rights
If your rights are being breached the first step is normally to take this up with your employer.
If this does not work you could contact the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) or ACAS (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service). ACAS is a publicly funded organisation that deals with workplace conflicts. If you intend to take legal action it is strongly recommend that you contact a qualified employment lawyer.
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