The use and abuse of interns

The potential for an internship to turn into a public relations debacle and an ensuing legal challenge has been illustrated by some recent examples. There was the furore over a Labour MP who allegedly paid young "interns" (later to be renamed "volunteers") £25 for a six-day working week in the build up to polling day and a Canary Wharf-based law firm that supposedly advertised a summer placement that students would have to pay for.

Internships can be a great way to tap into talent and an excellent route for individuals to get a foot in the door in highly competitive industries. For these reasons, internship programmes are incorporated into workforce planning and recruitment processes for many organisations within the financial services sector. However, with heightened interest in internships from the media and the unions and HMRC crackdowns on unpaid internships (with now increased potential penalties) it is even more important to get the management of these programmes right.

Relationship status

The nature of internships varies extensively between organisations. Before taking on an intern, it is essential to identify the relationship between intern and engaging entity. Interns could be volunteers, workers or employees. Where an individual is purely work shadowing and is merely there to watch and learn, the arrangement is more likely to qualify as voluntary work experience. If interns are expected to do the job, rather than simply shadow, they are more likely to be classed as workers or even employees.

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This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.


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Andrew Chamberlain

Partner - Head of Employment & Chair of the SDE

I am a Partner, the National Head of the Employment Team and the Chair of the Service Delivery Executive (SDE), which is focused on building better solutions for clients.