Too many employers are still taking major risks when providing work placements for young people and I am often advising employers that they are at risk of being found guilty of not paying the National Minimum Wage to interns. Regulations came into force on 7th March increasing the penalty to a £20,000 fine for those caught out by HMRC so quite apart from the ethical issues, employers need to watch out.
As a broad rule of thumb the dividing lines are as follows:
If I am allowing someone to work shadow me to decide if they want to become a solicitor, accompanying me to meetings, experiencing the different aspects of my job, then that is work experience and I do not need to pay them. I may set them learning tasks such as research or problem questions that I have made up, to give them a taste of the work but the prime goal is their learning and my feedback.
If, however, I give an intern work to do that, if they weren’t here, either I would have to do myself or pay a member of my staff to do, such as drafting a letter to a client, then that is real work for which they should be in receipt of the National Minimum Wage. Just labelling their placement as an ‘internship’ doesn’t give me the right to avoid paying them.
If you’ve got categories of worker that you are worried about, then contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.