What are my rights during a paid internship?

The following article was provided by Solicitor Directory.

As a paid intern you’ll be making a big investment of time and effort. It’s reasonable to expect some legal rights and protections. Here are the answers to some common questions about the rights of paid interns.

Do paid interns get the same rights as their permanent colleagues or even temp workers?

Perhaps you are doing casual observation and job shadowing and just get paid expenses. You don’t have any obligations to the organisation and neither do they to you. This is a great way to get experience and has the possibility of a paid job.

If, on the other hand, you are doing productive work and have specific obligations, you do have rights under employment law. These depend whether you’re a “worker” or an “employee”. It’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, but broadly speaking employees are more integrated into the organisation. Your permanent colleagues are probably classified as “employees” and the temps as “workers”. Interns are more likely to fall into the worker category.

As a worker you must be paid the National Minimum Wage (unless the work experience is part of a student course), and are protected under the Working Time Regulations 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. If you are an employee you have some additional rights although most of these (parental leave, redundancy pay) aren’t relevant to an intern.

Do you need a written contract?

To have employment law rights you need to have a contractual agreement with the internship provider. This means that you must have obligations to one another. To be legally valid, the contract can be written or oral.

In practice it’s better to have the agreement in writing so you are both clear where you stand.

Can you quit at any time or will there be a notice period?

If you are classified as a “worker” or “employee” you must abide by any notice period agreed. If there is none, you can quit when you like unless you fall into the “employee” category and the internship has lasted for a month or more. In that case, you must give a week’s notice. Obviously, it’s best not to leave your internship provider in the lurch as this could damage your reputation in the industry or at best spoil your chance of a decent reference!

If it is a paid internship is there any obligation for the employer to teach you or is the company free to get you to do any tasks?

Realistically, any internship involves some grunt work but the employer should give you the chance to gain relevant skills and experience. If you have agreed a role description stating that you will be doing practical training orientated towards a particular career, the employer may be breaching your contract if they do not keep to this. If the internship is unpaid, there is an obligation for the employer to teach you and provide learning opportunities throughout the internship period.

The vast majority of employers want their interns to have a happy and productive experience. Have a clear agreement at the outset and it’s unlikely that any disputes or misunderstanding will arise.

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